BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – The Central Lee girls volleyball team found themselves in several holes they couldn’t dig out of Thursday night in a four-set loss to No. 3 New London at home.
The Lady Hawks found themselves without outside hitter Makayla Morrison just after school let out and went on to lose 7-25, 25-17, 26-28, 26-28 to one of the best Class 1A teams in the state.
“There can’t be an excuse, they have to be flexible,” said head coach Amy Cook after the game. “But when you have that last minute lineup change… we just couldn’t push through it.”
The Hawks were 4-1 coming into the match against a 3-0 Tigers team that had blowout wins to start the season. No team had put up more than 13 points in a set all year against the Tigers.
In Thursdays’ IGHSAU rankings New London crept up one to No. 3 after starting the season at No. 4 in Class 1A. Fort Madison’s Holy Trinity Catholic is the top team in the state. Those two teams could collide at the Keokuk Invitational on Sept. 19 and are set to square off Sept. 29 in Fort Madison.
New London rolled in the first set as Central Lee adjusted to a different lineup without Morrison anchoring the side.
But Central came roaring back in the second set with big attacks from senior Mya Merschman, Abigail Wellman and Meghan Hopp finding wood on the New London side.
With the match squared at 1, New London jumped out to an 8-2 lead but Central would go on a 10-4 run to tie things up on when Merschman blocked a Sofie Reighard swing. Rieghard would hit long on her next attack to give Central the lead.
The Lady Hawks would put together another 9-2 run capped when Zoe Eschman pushed a shot over the New London front line down the right side for 21-14 lead.
Wellman would get the Hawks to set point when she dumped one in the middle of the New London defense for a 24-19 lead. But as would be the theme for the rest of the night for Central Lee, the girls couldn’t put the set away.
After squandering six set points, New London would go up 2 sets to 1 when a kill from the right landed deep in for the win.
Central Lee started the fourth set up 6-0 behind some sparkling serves from Hopp, including two aces, but New London would correct the course and tie things up at 8 on a kill from sophomore Keaura Williams that appeared to go long, but was called off the tips of the Hawk defenders.
New London would get four straight forcing Cook to call a time out. The Lady Hawks would kill the momentum and rebound for a 13-12 lead on a New London defensive error.
The two teams would battle back and forth with 10 ties all the way to 24-24 when a kill from New London’s Sophie Malott spoiled another set point for the Hawks.
Wellman would get a kill on the next point to set up another set point, but a big block of a Merschman attack tied it up again. Wellman would score knuckling the ball over the New London front for a 26-25 Central Lee, but Rieghard would ruin Central’s hopes again with another block that found the floor.
New London would score on the next point for 27-26 lead forcing Cook to call another time out, and Williams would put the night away on a kill to the left side.
Cook said the Hawks were missing on blocks frequently and that’s uncharacteristic for the girls.
“Our blocking was not there. There were moments, but we weren’t consistent and that’s something we need to work on,” she said. “We’re a blocking team, but we were just seeing some silly errors that we need to focus on clean up.
“Our girls are getting better mentally. They want to do it, we just couldn’t keep pushing through.”
Wellman was 17 for 19 with 16 kills, 1 block, while Merschman was 14 of 15 with nine kills. Zoe Eschman had 17 assists and Alix Congdon was a perfect 19 of 19 serving with three aces for Central. Macy Watkins has 18 digs to lead the Hawks defense and had 10 assists.
Central is now 4-2 on the year and is tentatively set to travel to Burlington Notre Dame on Tuesday, before hosting Van Buren on Thursday night.