PIERCE -- Both Norfolk Catholic coach Travis Fisher and Pierce coach Brittany Case were pleased following Pierce's season-opening 25-12, 21-25, 25-21, 25-11 win over Norfolk Catholic here Thursday.
Fisher, who watched his team win the second set after Pierce ran away with the first, was pleased with his team's effort. He was was also happy with their focus on what he calls "the process."
"We did play with conviction tonight. We were a little flat that first set, but they didn't hang their heads. They came out trusting the process the second set," Fisher said. "We put ourselves in position to win a game, and that's what I'm proud about."
For Case, in her first year at Pierce after working as an assistant at her alma mater -- West Point-Beemer, where she graduated in 2010 -- satisfaction came from both the season-opening win and the Bluejays' commitment to defense.
"I think the girls really needed a game. We've had a lot of practices, so they were ready to have a game. This is good, especially to start off with a win," Case said. "Our goal this defense is defense. We're playing no-excuse defense. You have to play defense all the time; you don't have a choice."
Overcoming five first-set service errors to roll to the first set win thanks to three kills apiece from Lexi Dunn, Sidney Zimmerer and Carly Sutherland, the Knights dictated the tempo in a 25-21 set-two victory. But Pierce took a 14-8 lead on an ace serve by 6-foot-1 sophomore Maggie Brahmer in the third set, pushed the lead to 18-10 on a Norfolk Catholic service error and then fought off a 9-1 run by the Knights that tied the score at 19 when Allyson Hoff netted a kill.
Dunn and Brahmer started a 6-2 set-clinching run by the Bluejays with kills before Sutherland slammed a kill off the Norfolk Catholic defense to put Pierce up 2-1.
In the fourth set, the Bluejays took control with a 9-2 run to start. The Knights couldn't get any closer than six points the rest of the way, with Sutherland's tip finishing the victory behind a Dunn kill.
"Norfolk Catholic came out and played really well in the second and third set, and it was good for the girls to be pushed," Case said. "I was really excited with the fourth set. I told the girls -- they always play up and down, and we're really focused on keeping steady -- that I was really excited to see them bounce back in that fourth set."
In addition to defense, the first-year Pierce coach and Midland University graduate said her team has focused on each player having a balanced skill set in the preseason. That showed up for the Bluejays in the statistics.
Sutherland led the way with 12 kills, while Brahmer added nine. Meredith Fasse added six kills, Dunn and Krystina Schuett had five apiece and Zimmerer finished with four. Emily Simmons led the assist column with 16, but Ellie Moeller had nine, Sutherland had five and Dunn had four. Behind the service line, Brahmer had five aces, and Simmons added four.
"We focus on developing on each player to pass, set and hit," Case said. "We are really focused on that."
Kallie Olmer, the Knights' lone senior, was her team's leader in the kill department with nine. She also had five ace serves -- including a string of four on five serves as Norfolk Catholic took a brief 6-3 lead in the third set after falling behind 3-0 -- and 19 digs. Junior Kassidy Steffen kept the ball moving with 15 set assists, and fellow junior MacKenna Kalin added seven.
"That third set, we started off in a hole. Kallie Olmer did a great job getting us back in it, but our third rotation then gave up five points. So we've got to eliminate some of the runs," Fisher said. "One thing about that fourth set -- every game is going to have hills and valleys. How we respond when we are in the valleys is going to determine how successful we are. It just took as too long to get out of the valley to win that set."
Both teams will compete in the Columbus Scotus invite on Saturday. The tournament field is full of state tournament-caliber teams with Stanton, Columbus Lakeview, Columbus Scotus, Hartington Cedar Catholic and Wahoo Neumann among the teams in the field.
"I'm happy with our effort. We did not defend the one-zone (back corner) very well, and it took us too long to get out of the valleys," Fisher said. "But these girls have improved so much over the past two weeks, and they are going to work their tails off to be a good volleyball team. There's no doubt about it."
Pierce defeats Norfolk Catholic 25-12, 21-25, 25-21, 25-11
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (0-1): Kallie Olmer 8k, 5a, 19d; Kerstin Brtek 7d; Allyson Hoff 6k, 1b, 1a, 3d; Ashley Evans 2k, 2s, 1d; Kassidy Steffen 15s, 6d; Abby Miller 4k, 3d; MacKenna Kalin 1k, 7s, 6d; Jordan Peitz 1k, 1s, 4d; Taylor Gilsdorf 7k, 2s, 2a, 7d.
PIERCE (1-0): Lexi Dunn 4s, 5k; Shianna Oestreich 1s, 2a, 13d; Sidney Zimmerer 2s, 4k, 1a, 12d; Maggie Brahmer 9k, 2b, 5a, 3d; Meredith Fasse 6k, 1b, 3d; Carly Sutherland 5s, 12d, 1b; Krystina Schuett 1s, 5k, 1b, 11d; Emily Simmons 16s, 4a, 3d; Ellie Moeller 9s, 2a, 3d; Maci Kroupa 4d.