By Josh Brown
TROY — Since the two teams began facing off in 2011, the rivalry between Troy and Miami East volleyball has been one of the more entertaining ones in Miami County.
The turning point in Saturday’s matchup, though, took the air out of the entire crowd at the Trojans Activities Center and cost the Vikings more than just a simple match.
With the match tied at 1-1 and the score in Game 3 tied at 14-14, both teams fought tooth and nail during the longest rally of the day — only to have the point cut short with no winner after Miami East’s Sierra Kinnison went down with an injury. When play resumed, the Trojans took over, taking control and winning the set and then only trailing by one point early in the fourth to claim a 25-18, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17 victory, Troy’s first over the Vikings since 2015.
“It’s a tough one to come back from, when you have one of your more physically dominant players go down,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said. “But you’ve got to play through it, and we didn’t do that so well.”
And dealing with injuries is something Troy coach Michelle Owen can relate to, as well.
“It did,” Owen said of how the atmosphere Saturday changed. “It’s hard when you have a key injury like that. We went through that in a preseason scrimmage when Carly (Pfeiffer) went down with an ankle — we’re playing a team we should be handling, and suddenly we’re down 9-1. It’s like, how do you regroup and find a way to win? And the same thing happened later that scrimmage, two opponents later, when our setter Morgan (Baber) went down with an injury.
“We’ve actually fought the injury bug all preseason. We’ve had several ankle injuries, I’ve got several girls fighting shoulder injuries consistently. So I do, I feel for them. And I thought he (Peterson) did a good job in that next set getting some of his other hitters involved — it’s hard to get your troops to rally that emotion back, so we tried to use our energy and momentum from there.”
That proved to be the only time either team could truly gain an edge on the day, with neither the Trojans (3-0) nor Vikings (1-3) going on any lengthy runs in the early part of the match. The first set was 18-16 Troy before a kill by Brianna Slusher, back-to-back kills by Payton Riley, a block by Baber and one last kill by Slusher gave Troy its biggest lead at 23-17, and the Trojans closed out the first set from there.
And in the second, neither team led by more than four the entire way — a 17-13 Troy lead — but the Vikings fought back and, with the score tied 23-23, got back-to-back kills by Lydia Conley to even up the match at a set apiece.
“Even in the second set, nobody could break apart for more than a two- or three-point lead,” Owen said. “Nobody could get a big service run going, and we struggled to find those big momentum swings. It was back-and-forth, side-out volleyball pretty much the whole time.”
But with the third set tied 14-14 and both defenses making quality saves on solid hits, Kinnison went up for a swing and landed awkwardly and when play resumed, Troy won four of the next five points and never let go of control again until a Set 4 ace by Gabbi Johnson closed out the match.
“You could feel it in the gym after Sierra went down with that injury. The wind just went out of our sails,” Peterson said. “I mean, we can sit there in the huddle and say focus on what we’re doing and all that coach’s jargon that we use. But when you get down to it, you’re dealing with kids that just watched one of their teammates hit the deck.”
“She’s one of their solid all-around kids, and when you take one of those out from either side, it just changes your chemistry a lot,” Owen said. “It’s unfortunate that it came to that, and we obviously hope the best for her and them.”
Troy’s offense was led by Riley, who turned in 16 kills on the day to go with two aces, two blocks and five digs. Lauren Schmitz added nine kills, three assists, an ace, 15 digs and two blocks and Slusher had nine kills, two blocks and two digs.
“Payton’s been playing really well,” Owen said. “Her confidence is growing. Against Sidney, there were a couple times where we needed that key point, I told her she needed to put the ball here and she was able to do that. In that last set today, she started to look a little tired — we’ve been trying to balance out her and Kate (Orban’s) time so they can both stay fresh — but today we had to rely on Payton a little more. She looked a little tired, but she came up big on the last few points again.”
Baber, the Trojans’ setter, also had seven kills on the day, often catching the Vikings off guard with tips. She also had 44 assists, four aces, five digs and two blocks.
“I looked at the bench at one point in Set 2 and asked ‘is she leading us in offense right now?’” Owen said of Baber. “We’ve been working with her in practice to be a little more aggressive at the net, worked with her on her dump placement, and it paid off today.”
Alexa Holland had a team-high 24 digs and two assists, Pfeiffer had six kills, two digs and a block Johnson and Kate Orban had three kills apiece, with Johnson adding two aces, four digs and a block, Hallie Westmeyer had one kill and one block, Ella Furlong had four digs, Emmie Jackson had two digs and Emily Huber had one dig.
Sophie Jacomet led Miami East with six kills, a block and an ace, Conley had four kills and three blocks, Kinnison had four kills, Nichole Hood had four kills and an ace, Macie Schaffner had a kill and three aces, Delaney Bourelle had two kills and Lauren Fisher had one kill. The Vikings open Cross County Conference play Tuesday at Bethel.
“Coming in, we said if we served well, we’d be alright,” Peterson said. “We’re pretty confident in what we can do serving the ball. The times we went on runs, it was because we put them (Troy) in bad positions. But when you’re playing good teams, they adjust — and they did.
“Our schedule is tough for reason. There’s no shame in losing a match like this against good competition. We’ll get into conference play, see what works and what doesn’t and we’ll get better.”
Troy, meanwhile, will continue Greater Western Ohio Conference American North play — and a three-match homestand — against Butler Tuesday and Tippecanoe Thursday.
“We’ve got a busy week with Butler, Tipp and Centerville,” Owen said. “We‘re not slowing down soon.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.