The Olentangy Orange volleyball team continues to check things off the list. Things like nailing down its first winning season (2014), first shared conference title (2015), first 20-win season (2015) and first district semifinal appearance (2015).
Check, check, check and check.
Last week the Pioneers checked off beating rival Olentangy for the first time in nine tries and now they can check off beating rival Olentangy Liberty with a 3-1 victory Thursday night in Lewis Center.
“It’s been a good week,” Pioneers coach Katie Duy said. “This week we’ve been able to beat them both. (Liberty) is a great program. I have all the respect for (Liberty coach) Jen Chapman. She’s a phenomenal coach. She’s built a phenomenal program.”
Prior to this season, the Pioneers have only played Liberty twice since Orange opened in 2008 – losing in straight sets both times (2010 and 2015).
It was particularly painful when Orange (11-4, 5-1) won the first two sets in the first meeting this year only to lose in five to the Patriots Sept. 6.
“We were a little hungry after going up 2-0 last time,” Duy said. “They played great coming back against us. I think our approach (this time) was to manage every point and not really look ahead at the outcome, but slowly manage (the game), and I think we did that.”
This time it was the Pioneers who overcame a rocky start to keep pace with Olentangy atop the OCC-Buckeye.
Liberty scored 10 straight points early in the first set and held off a comeback to win 25-21. Taylor Karlo had a pair of aces during the run and Heather Littlejohn had a kill and then combined with Lindsey Merrels on a block.
Littlejohn and Caroline Wells each had a kill and then a Littlejohn and Merrels combo-block paced seven straight points to put the Patriots in control early in the second set.
This time, Orange fought back. Megan McCollum had a pair of aces during an 8-0 Pioneer run. Taylor Metzler had a pair of kills to allow Orange to gain control and Carrigan O’Reilly finished off Liberty with a pair of touch shots in a 25-23 victory.
Wells and Madison Brenner each had a kill, Merrels and Maddie Fogg combined on a block and Cameryn Dyer had an ace to finish off a 6-2 start for Liberty in the third set.
“We served aggressively,” Chapman said. “We took them out of being in-system. It comes down to serving and passing. That’s what I told them has to be our identity. You have to be able to serve aggressively and get the other side (uncomfortable) and we have to take care of first-ball contacts.”
Duy attributed the slow starts to fatigue. Orange has played eight games over the last nine days, winning seven of them, including all three this week.
“I think it was the tail end of a long nine days, so I knew they were going to be tired,” Duy said. “I was just really proud of them for managing through those moments and sticking to the game plan.”
Later, Metzler and Sidney Reeder each had a kill and O’Reilly had back-to-back aces to help Orange gain control with five straight points on its way to a 25-21 third set victory.
There was no early run in the fourth set for the Patriots. Orange gained control by scoring 13 out of 16 points, led by two kills each by Madison Moll and Samantha Rubal and a pair of aces by Emily Murphy.
Rubal led the Pioneers with 15 kills and four blocks.
A Grace Clark kill followed by a block gave Liberty one last ditch effort, but O’Reilly’s touch shot and Sidney Gossard’s ace finished off the Patriots 25-19 in the fourth.
O’Reilly had 34 assists to go with a team-high three aces as well as six kills.
“My goal is to get the team in the best situation possible,” O’Reilly said. “No matter if it’s hitting, setting or passing … I want to put the team ahead of me. I think I’ve gotten better at seeing the block on the other side, so I know to get my hitters in the best position.”
Gossard had eight kills and Moll, Metzler and Reeder each had six kills. Sophie Dahn led with 22 digs, McCollum had 17 and Gabi Hinley added 11.
“I think with Ashlan (Riley) out, they knew we were down a hitter,” Duy said. “So, Sam is kind of our go-to. (O’Reilly) did a great job of finding other hitters and putting them in great positions to be successful … and they were.”
It’s been a tough week for Liberty (12-4, 4-2). The Patriots’ losing streak is the same as the amount of games they lost last season – three. Add to that, they are looking up at their rivals for first place in the first year of the OCC-Buckeye.
“We have a lot of season still ahead of us,” Chapman said. “This happens sometimes … I’ve been a part of these scenarios before and you just need to keep working through them and try not to let frustration set in. There’s still hope for a conference championship and, if that doesn’t happen, there’s tournament time.”
Both teams continue league play Tuesday night. Orange visits Westerville Central and Liberty hosts Westerville South.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.