Not accustomed to playing key league matches this early in the season, the Bellarmine Prep volleyball team used its height and experience to get past Gig Harbor 25-15, 25-17, 25-22 in its league opener at home on Sept. 6.
“This is pretty new for us,” said Bellarmine head coach Jody DeGroot. “We’ve always started our (league) season at the end of September. So both teams have only had a few weeks to put our team together.”
The Lions charged out of the gate, forcing the Tides into errors and getting a block from senior captain Katherine Joyce on the way to an 8-0 lead. Junior Lindsay Schelbert later made it 15-5 with a nice kill, but Gig Harbor charged back to make it 17-13 thanks to kills by Courtney Jost and Summer Adams.
Bellarmine sophomore Claire Martin responded with two key blocks and combined with junior Emily Newberry to give the Lions some big plays up front, along with some imposing height.
“They bring a different kind of energy to our team,” DeGroot said. “Everyone says you can’t coach height. When you have this tall girl and they’re able to make some of those plays that some of the other ones can’t really do, they all kind of own it. It just brings that momentum and energy that you need sometimes.”
Reigning Narrows 4A MVP Courtney Schwan took over early in the second set, getting three early kills and a block, and Joyce later helped give the Lions a 15-9 lead with her third kill in the previous seven points. Schwan later added two straight aces in the set to make it 19-13, and the Lions maintained a five-point cushion the rest of the way.
“I think what really helped us is we have a lot of energy and we have a good team bond,” said senior setter and co-captain Katy DeGroot, who finished with 29 assists. “We were able to trust each other and connect with each other.”
The Tides stayed with the Lions all the way through the third set, taking a 14-11 lead even with Joyce, Schwan and Newberry consistently coming up with big plays up front.
Jost gave the Tides a 21-20 lead with an ace, but Schwan – who finished with a team-high 16 kills along with 16 digs – responded with a kill and an ace of her own, and Joyce followed four points later with a kill to finish off the match.
“Even if we had the height and didn’t get along it wouldn’t work out, but the fact that we work so well together is what makes it so special,” said Joyce, who finished with 12 kills.
The Lions were also buoyed by the play of seniors Kelsie May and Rachel Gill, along with sophomore outside hitter Reghan Pukis and junior defensive specialist Julia Wright. Having claimed a big non-league win against SPSL South contender Puyallup on Sept. 5, the Lions are showing great potential early but know there is still room to improve.
“We have plenty to work on, but we’re starting in a good place,” Jody DeGroot said. “I hope we build on it from here.