Nov. 9—ACCIDENT — No. 2 seed Clear Spring, the defending Class 1A state champion, defeated top-seeded Northern in four sets in the West Region I Final on Wednesday.
"We knew coming into tonight that Northern was going to be a very tough game," Clear Spring head coach Jess Custer said. "We knew we were gonna have to serve well and play our game well on our side. We had to minimize our errors because we knew they'd capitalize if we didn't. Played a very tough match against a very tough team."
The Blazers (13-3) won the first set 25-10 and the final two sets 25-18 and 25-17. The Huskies (13-3) won the second set 25-20.
"We did not control our emotions at all," Northern head coach Jamie Bailey said. "We hit the ceiling more tonight in our home gym than we have all season. It was just high emotions, I don't know if it was because it was the regionals or it's a team we've never played."
The Huskies led the first set 3-1 early and tied it at 4 on a kill by Madison Kilduff off an Ady Taylor assist.
It ended up being Northern's final lead of the set.
Emilee Hixon set up Shelby Koenig for a kill to give Clear Spring a 5-4 lead.
The Blazers went on a 9-3 run led by Skylar Plante's three aces and a block.
"They could not pass to save their lives," Bailey said. "My setter was playing a little bit high tempered, so she was pushing the ball a little too far. They just got frustrated with their blockers all night."
Clear Spring went on an 8-2 run to push its lead to 22-9. Hixon set up Addison Zeigler for a kill to win the set.
The Blazers recorded seven aces in the first set. Hixon and Plante each had three with Hixon recording three in a row.
"They are two of my most consistent servers," Custer said. "We were trying to move it around a little bit and see what they can do serving wise. But they're my two most consistent."
Clear Spring led for most of the second set, but Northern rallied midway through to eventually even it.
The Blazers led 11-8 midway through, but the Huskies went on a 6-3 run to take a 15-14 lead.
Callie Pudlak recorded two blocks on the same play to tie it at 14 and Natalie Reed gave Northern the lead with another block.
"That was a big momentum swing," Bailey said. "One of our girls said 'Oh look, we can do it'. It gave them a little more fire to play harder in the third game."
After four ties, an error on the Blazers gave the Huskies a 20-19 lead. An ace by Demi Ross and a block by Sophia Dewitt completed the comeback.
Errors cost Clear Spring in the second set. After committing three in the first, the Blazers had nine in the second including three on serves.
"I don't know, if I knew I'd be the greatest volleyball coach in the world," Custer said of what led to the mistakes.
Clear Spring led for the majority of the third set. The Blazers led early before the Huskies tied it at 8 on an error.
Clear Spring took the lead back on a service error and kept it the remainder of the set.
The Blazers went on a 9-2 run and led 18-10 midway through. Hixon led Clear Spring with two assists and an ace.
"I made some lineup changes and we got more energy back," Custer said. "We kind of rolled with it there in the third game. Usually when they lose a game, they get pretty fired up when they come out the next game."
The teams split the final 14 points, but Northern's deficit was too big to overcome as Emerson Moats set up Zeigler for the set-winning kill.
The Huskies led for the first half of what ended up being the final set and led 10-8 after Taylor set up Ross for a powerful kill that got the Husky fans on their feet.
Clear Spring quickly took the lead back at 11-10 on a block by Hixon. The Blazers held the lead the remainder of the way, but not before Northern made one last push.
The Huskies cut it to 17-14 after a block by Kilduff, but they were unable to make it any closer.
"Once they started getting down, they started panicking even more," Bailey said. "They really wanted to move on. They just weren't connecting, their passes weren't on, their sets weren't on. My hitters were getting frustrated with the blockers. Instead of playing it smart and using the blockers, they're trying to swing through it."
Clear Spring ended the match on an 8-3 run and won on a Hixon to Zeigler kill.
Hixon led all players with 34 assists, adding five aces and a kill.
Zeigler recorded 17 kills, five blocks and an ace. Plante added seven kills, five aces and a block.
"She runs our offense really well," Custer said of Hixon. "Addy is usually our strong killer on the outside. There's not much that stops her."
Taylor led the Huskies with 25 assists, 11 digs and three aces.
Kilduff recorded seven blocks and five kills. Pudlak added 11 kills and two blocks.
"Maddy had one of her best games ever," Bailey said. "She's not a super strong hitter, but she is a big blocker. For only playing two years, it says a lot."
Northern's season comes to an end. The Huskies, the WestMAC champions, tied the Blazers and Mountain Ridge for the best regular season record in the region.
"They're such a fun group of girls," Bailey said. "Practices were always fun and between the girls I had no issues. They wanted it, every day they came in. I didn't have to force them to get ready for practice. They were always ready. I love this team."
Clear Spring advances to the state quarterfinals this weekend and will look to defend its state title.
Jordan Kendall is a Sports Writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Email him with scores and story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.