By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — When they got together to prepare for the upcoming season back in early August, the Indian Hills volleyball team was filled with all sorts of optimism.
After going 30-11 last season and with a solid international recruiting class slated to join the mix, head coach Lyndsey Lyon felt her team had everything in place for another successful year in 2013.
“I think what we’ve got here is going to be just as great as and hopefully even better than last year,” Lyon said. “If we all gel together and we all stay healthy, it should be another great year.”
Three weeks into the season, however, those two key elements to producing an even better season have been trickier to accomplish than the Warriors anticipated. Injuries just before the start of the season and continuing adjustments to lineups changes have kept the IHCC spikers from being able to “gel” on the court.
And unfortunately for the Warriors, the first three weeks of the season has not allowed much in the way of easy opponents to right the ship against. The results have been several tough matches, hard-fought wins, but lately several tougher-to-take losses.
The most recent case of that came on Thursday night when the Warriors looked like they were about to give the fans on at the Tom Arnold Net Center a long battle with Kirkwood, the eighth-ranked Division II team in NJCAA. After losing game one 25-18 without leading once, IHCC battled through 12 ties and five lead changes to win a thrilling second game 26-24 to even the match.
But just as it appeared they had turned the corner and forced the Eagles into a battle, the Eagles took off over the next two games. Several hitting errors and a smoother counter attack at the net helped Kirkwood pull away for two-straight decisive wins in games three and four as the Eagles spoiled the long-awaited home opener for IHCC, winning 25-12 and 25-15 in the final two games of the match.
“We’ve got girls that can’t practice right now. In order to even put a roster out there right now, we have to put out girls that don’t even practice right now,” Lyon said. “We’ve got girls playing out of position, girls that are taking balls from the outside when they’re not used to it and we’re just lacking in execution right now.”
No player was more excited for the potential of the upcoming Indian Hills volleyball season than sophomore Peyton Crosser. The former Ottumwa Bulldog was one of the two returning front line players along with Shelby Lauterbach and was excited to be joined with an infusion of international talent this season.
Injuries, however, have kept the Warriors from putting its best team on the floor so far in 2013. Those injuries have also caused Crosser to have to play out of position at times, an adjustment the second-year Warrior is still adjusting to.
“We have a couple players dealing with injuries. I’m playing through injuries right now,” Crosser said. “We’re just trying to play through them. It’s one of those things we just need to have that drive to turn around our season. We can always find that drive.”
Thursday’s match saw Kirkwood take advantage of several early opportunities provided by the Warriors. Mishits and missed passes at the net allowed the Eagles to produce points on several IHCC errors, helping the Eagles stay in front throughout the opening-game win.
“We talked about during an early timeout with our team that it seemed like whoever made the fewest errors would probably win,” Kirkwood head coach Jill Williams said. “I’m sure Lyndsey would say the same thing, but it just seemed like we were making so many silly errors in the match.”
Indian Hills gave its fans a glimpse of just how good a team they can be in the second game of the match. Mirela Vosconcelos served up six consecutive points as IHCC took its first lead of the night at 7-4. Fellow Brazilian freshman Camila Araujo came alive, scoring on several of her match-high 14 kills in the second game as the Warriors battled through a back-and-forth battle with the Eagles that ended after Kirkwood erased a pair of game points to tie things at 24-24.
A rare mishit by Erin Walker opened the door to a third game point for the Warriors and a third chance to level the match. Vasconcelos and Crosser combined for a block on the next point to clinch a game-two Warrior win.
“Our passing is there and if I can get back in the middle, we can really start to turn our season around,” Crosser said. “If we can put the finish on this team, we’re still a national team without question in my mind. We still have that kind of talent and we showed it in that second game.”
The Warriors continued to battle back and forth early in game three with Kirkwood, forcing three more ties while exchanging the lead twice more as the match seemed to be headed in the same direction as game two ended. All of a sudden, Kirkwood took off by picking up every ball IHCC tried to slam over the net while finding more gaps as the third game wore on in the Warriors defense.
A seven-point run allowed the Eagles to open a sudden 19-9 lead. IHCC had no answers as Kirkwood rolled to a 2-1 lead in the match and kept on pouring it on with a 12-1 start in game four leading the way to a match-clinching 25-15 win.
“That’s when you know you’ve got a team right where you want them,” Williams said. “When you’re playing a team in their house, you get them frustrated and that’s when you have to go.”
While No. 8 (DII) Kirkwood left Ottumwa with a 12-4 record on the season, Indian Hills (6-8) got no time to rest before heading to West Burlington to start two straight days of play at the Southeastern Tournament Friday. Matches with Lewis & Clark and Carl Sandburg Friday were slated to be followed by a doubleheader with East Central and Lake Land College today before the Warriors head home to host Iowa Lakes on Monday.
“We’ve got time to turn it around, especially this weekend,” Lyon said. “I think we’ve got four opponents that I think we should be able to take on and get things back on track. The girls just have to want it right now.
“We have to be together as a team. We have to get off the roller coaster.”
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Indian Hills 18-26-12-15
Aces — Erin Walker 2, Chelsea Gryp, Payton Hilton, Heather Poula, Amber Timmins. Team — 6.
Kills — Ailcen Wintermote 12, Walker 10, Poula 9, Gryp 7, Hilton 7, Timmins. Team — 46.
Blocks — Wintermote 7, Gryp 4, Hilton 3, Poula 2, Timmins, Walker. Team — 18.
Aces — Peyton Crosser, Shelby Lauterbach, Kaylee Scholten, Mirela Vasconcelos. Team — 4.
Kills — Camila Araujo 14, Crosser 9, Vasconcelos 6, Lauterbach 5, Katie Soddy 2, Scholten. Team — 37.
Blocks — Vasconcelos 3, Araujo 2, Lauterbach 2, Crosser, Camila Luiza, Ramiah St.Fleur. Team — 10.