Both sides wore black in last Thursday night’s North Tier League volleyball match between Port Allegany and Smethport at the PAHS gym, but once the ball went up, it wasn’t hard to tell which team was the defending NTL champs.
Racing out to an 11-0 lead behind the serving of Jenny Shelley in Game 1, the Gators made quick work of the first two games, then withstood a Hubber surge in the third to wrap up the 25-12, 25-8, 25-16 win.
Shelley’s left-handed serves confounded the Smethport returners all night, piling up 18 points and five aces – including a pair back-to-back to close out the first game – and the Gator senior added 25 assists and three kills in another straight-set victory.
“She’s got a lot of topspin on that ball,” Port coach Sharon Daniels said of the three-time North Tier all-star. “Whether she’s running a jump serve or whether she’s running flat, she just has so much topspin. It’s coming at you, and then it dies right in front of you. It’s tough to handle.”
When the Hubs did get the ball back over the net, they found the trio of Rachel Taylor (9 points, 11 kills, 5 blocks), Becca Lathrop (7 points, 4 kills), and Ashley Woodruff (7 points, 7 kills) waiting on the other side. And when it looked like Smethport might mount a challenge, taking their first lead of the night at 3-2 in the third game and still within range at 11-8, junior middle hitter Taylor Causer followed a Port timeout with a huge block and a four-point service run to help the Gators pull away for the win.
“She played well tonight,” said Daniels of Causer. “But everybody’s stepping up – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a starter or you’re coming off the bench.”
Port added two more straight-set wins to open the week, downing Galeton 25-13, 25-9, 25-9 in a non-league road match on Monday, then returning home to take out Cameron County 25-12, 25-14, 25-11 the next night.
Shelley dealt out 30 assists and added 10 points and three kills against the Tigers, with Taylor (14 kills, 6 blocks, 10 points) leading the offense and Lathrop (9 points, 5 kills, 2 blocks), Woodruff (7 kills), and Brooke Roys (7 points, 4 kills, 2 blocks) contributing.
The Red Raiders didn’t have any better luck against Shelley’s serves than the Hubbers had, as the senior racked up 11 points on nine aces and filled up the stat sheet with 19 assists, four kills, two blocks, and five digs. Taylor (8 kills), Lathrop (15 points, 3 kills, 5 digs), Causer (16 points), Roys (6 points, 5 kills, 3 blocks) and Woodruff (6 kills, 5 digs) also garnered mention from the Port mentor as the Gators won their 24th straight regular-season match to move to 8-0, 5-0 NTL.
“We’re playing steady,” Daniels said on Thursday night. “I’m pleased with everybody. If we stay healthy, we’ll be okay.”