Clay Sidenbender | Echo
Taylor volleyball is heading back to Grace College for the second time this season. This time, the season is on the line.
The Taylor Trojans will face the Grace Lady Lancers for a Crossroads League quarterfinal match. They play Saturday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in Winona Lake. Taylor is coming in with a 17-16 record and Grace with a 19-14 record.
"I would say, overall, we had some pretty frustrating losses," said head coach Erin Luthy. "(Our) record doesn't necessarily show the growth . . . when we lost some of those matches, they were really, really close."
The Trojans have played eight matches with five sets this regular season. The last time the Trojans faced eight or more five-set matches during the regular season was 2012. One of the five-set matches this season was against the Lancers.
The first loss to Grace was a 3-0 sweep in Upland. However, Taylor lost set one by two points, set two by nine points and set three by two points.
"The last two times we've played them this season, we've made a lot of unforced errors," Luthy said. "So . . . in the moments that really counted."
The top expectations for the 2018 season were to have a solid team and win conference. The University of Saint Francis, Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) and Marian University were the teams Taylor watched out for this season.
Luthy said the beginning of the season was tough because Taylor could not finish strong. The main issue was the inexperience of her young team.
"I'm not blaming the young players per se, but just kind of the experience of playing with a new lineup," Luthy said. "We're peaking at a good time. We're finishing really strongly."
The Trojans have won their last six matches of the season. As of Oct. 30, Grace has lost eight of their last 10.
One of the biggest challenges for the Trojans will be coming into the Grace matchup with confidence. According to junior middle hitter Julia Pomerenke, the team failed to maintain confidence and remain consistent.
"We play around with our rotation a lot, trying to find what fits best with what people in which positions," Pomerenke said. "Now since we're progressing through our season, we kind of know who fits where better."
Pomerenke said staying loose during matches also helps Taylor out a lot. She said when they go to play Grace, Taylor plays to not lose, rather than win.
This week in practice, the Trojans have been working on their serve-receive and blocking. Pomerenke said when the blocking scheme is intact, the backrow can benefit considerably.
"Honestly, the most frustrating thing I can think of is being on the court and being a hitter when the ball won't go down and the other team gets the ball up," Pomerenke said. "That just . . . destroys me mentally."
Both Pomerenke and Luthy said Taylor volleyball has the best backrow in the Crossroads League. Junior defensive specialist Samantha Korn holds the highest record of digs in the Crossroads League with 680 digs, giving Taylor the highest team dig total in the league. Meanwhile, Grace has the second most team kills in the Crossroads League at 1,635 kills. Grace senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Caylie Teel leads the conference in kills with 442 kills. Grace junior setter Alexa Hill leads the conference in assists with 1,347 assists.
"At the beginning of the season, they just had, you know, more experience overall," Luthy said of the Grace volleyball team.
Luthy said her Taylor team has progressed this season. Taylor's game plan against Grace is to play at their peak performance.
Whoever wins Saturday's quarterfinal match will play in the semi-final on Wednesday, Nov. 7. If the winner of the Grace-Taylor match wins out in the tournament, they will qualify for the NCCAA tournament.