BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
ENDICOTT - Win and move on is big when it comes to the one-and-done postseason. That's what Owego did with a 3-0 sweep over Red Hook at U-E High School Tuesday evening.
The Indians didn't put on their best performance with their 25-8, 25-15 and 25-19 set victories, but it was more than good enough to advance the defending state champions on to Saturday's regional final.
"Unfortunately, I felt like we struggled tonight and I don't know why. I don't know why we didn't show up to play today," said Owego head coach Brittney Race. "You know, a win's a win. We're going to take it and move on, but we have a lot of work to do between now and Saturday.
The Raiders out of Section IX were making their first state tournament appearance in seven years. For Owego, it's "been there, done that" - several times. Race agreed the experience is a plus.
"I think so," she said. "Our girls have been in over and over and over. Even when not playing well, they know how to pull games out that are at this kind of a level, but it was not what I was expecting.
"This has been us all year long. We've kind of ridden this roller coaster of really, really awesome games and then really just not-so-good games. We don't really tend to fall anywhere in the middle. We're either really good or we're struggling. I didn't think we struggled awful, but we struggled. That was not the same team that played on Saturday, that's for sure."
Clearly, Saturday's five-set win over rival Windsor in the Section IV championship game brought out the intensity in the Indians. And that was one area race hopes her team improves on before the weekend.
"I think coming off of Saturday, where it was so intense and every point was do or die, you kind of have that let-down feeling where you've been up so high, and we only really had one day of practice in between to turn around and come play," Race said. "I think you get a little bit of that let down, and I think sometimes, depending on the team across the net from you, that dictates a lot of your energy and your style of play, but I was still disappointed. That was not us. I'm going to take it. A win is a win for sure. We're going to take it and move on."
Clearly, Red Hook's abilities are not on the same level as Windsor's a few days earlier, and the advantage in postseason experience appeared to play in Owego's favor in the opening set, a lopsided win in the Indians' favor.
Their game was clicking as they led from the start. Holding onto a 7-6 lead, the Indians went on an 11-0 run with Bianca DeVita at the service line for 10 of them. Owego would close out the game with a 6-0 burst with Annika Kinney closing it out with a pair of aces.
The Raiders appeared to overcome any jitters they might have during the next two sets while Owego struggled to maintain the intensity.
The Indians didn't have any big runs in game two, but did have several small bursts. They climbed out of an early 2-0 hole to go up, 5-2. Red Hook rallied to tie the set at five then, after Owego went back ahead, 10-7, the Raiders scored the next three points. Leading 14-12, Owego went on a 5-0 run to grab a 19-12 advantage and Red Hook never got closer than six.
Game three lend in the Raiders' favor early as they went ahead, 4-1, with help from three straight Owego errors. However, there Indians fought back with a 5-point run to take the lead for good. Still, the Indians were unable to pull away, although they did create a 15-9 cushion with four straight points. That six-point lead would get trimmed down to 22-19, then Owego ended the match, scoring the final three points.
While the intensity fell off, and the passing was not at its best, Owego did spread the ball around to get all its players on the court involved.
"We've been working really hard at that over the last couple weeks, using our middles more, being able to spread out our offense more," Race said. "And we're getting there. We did a better job on Saturday, but we're getting there. We're on the right track. We'll be alright. We'll pull it together and we'll be fine by Saturday."
Grace Thomas dished out 27 assists for the Indians and also had five kills, six digs and an ace. Kaylee Kelly posted 12 kills, for aces, five digs and an assist; Mackenzie Struble recorded five kills, 11 digs and one ace; Evee Coleman chipped in with seven kills; Sara Zepkowski added four kills; Annika Kinney registered 10 digs and four aces; Ruby Coleman had two kills and two blocks; Bianca DeVita had three digs, two assists and an ace; and Haleigh Whtley added an assist.
Owego (16-2) will face Section I champ Ardsley (18-2) in the regional final Saturday at John Jay-Cross River High School at 4 p.m.
IN PHOTO 1: Owego's Kaylee Kelly. ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.
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