By Mark Schnabel
The Newton High School volleyball team entered the season with a lot of new faces, and many of the returnees in new roles.
After a 4-8 start, the Railers are now 17-10, 7-2 in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I play, sweeping a league triangular Monday at Ravenscroft Gym.
Newton downed Derby 25-21, 22-25, 25-20; and AV-CTL I leader Maize 25-23, 25-20. With three league matches remaining for the Railers, Newton is one match behind Maize.
"It's been a lot of fun watching this team progress," Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said. "They could have gotten frustrated and folded after the first eight games. They stay late after practice. Sometimes I have to tell them it's time to go home. They've worked so hard to make themselves better. They're very committed to the team getting better."
"That meant a lot to us," Newton senior Logan Porter. "We lost to (Maize) at the (Maize) tournament, but then loss to them. That loss was hard on us. (The comeback this season) took a lot communication and it took a lot of fundamentals. The coach got on us about not relying on last year's hitters. We needed to step up and finish the game for ourselves."
Newton is 2-1 against both Maize and Derby this season.
Newton was able to improve it's blocking and floor coverage against Maize. Derby was able to find some holes in the Railer defense, especially in the second game.
"We shouldn't have let (Derby) come back on us," Porter said. "We were able to put them away in three. We were pretty happy about (beating Maize in two)."
"Derby tipped a lot against us, and we didn't make the adjustment," Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said. "Our defense was pretty good. Maize struggled to put the ball down. There were a lot of long rallies. We fought for every single point."
In the first set against Maize, Newton trailed 6-3, but rallied to take a 13-9 lead. Because of an incorrect number on the Newton line-up card, a point was then taken from Newton and given to Maize. The Eagles tied the game 13-13. Tied 23-23, a Payton Roberts spike and a downed block for Drew Deitz and Porter gave the Railers the game.
"Sometimes that stuff happens in volleyball," Dibbens said. "You hope the girls aren't affected by it. It didn't shake them up too much."
Tied 8-8 in the second game, Maize made a 3-0 run. Newton rallied back to take an 18-15 lead and force an Eagle time out.
Newton pressed its advantage to 23-17, where the Eagles called their final time out of the match. Newton needed three tries to end the match, but did it on a Roberts spike.
"It was important to win in two," Dibbens said. "We've struggled in a lot of game twos. We sometimes feel relief after winning game one."
Porter led the Railers with seven kills and two downed blocks. Jessica Motes added six kills and two downed blocks.
For Maize, Keiryn Swenson had nine kills and two downed blocks. Maddi Cumpston served two aces.
In the first game against Derby, Newton jumped out to an 8-1 lead. Derby then took a time out and made a 9-1 run. Newton got back up 13-10, but gave up a 7-1 run to force the Railers' final time out. Down 20-14, Newton mounted an 11-1 run, aided by Panther errors, to take the game.
Newton fell behind 14-9 in the second game. After a Railer time out, Newton fell behind 17-10, but drew within two, 19-17. Down 24-20, Newton held off two game points before the Panthers were able to put it away.
Neither team led by more than three points early in the deciding game. Tied 16-16, Newton made a 6-3 run, forcing the final Derby time out. The Railers made a 3-1 run after the time out, winning the match on a Drew Deitz downed block.
Porter led the Railers with 11 kills, followed by Motes with eight kills and a downed block, Roberts with four kills and a downed block and Lauren Regier with three kills and a downed block. Megan Regier and Lauren Regier each served an ace.
For Derby, Kenzie Brown had 11 kills and two downed blocks. Tori Miller had nine kills. Nia Bishop had five kills and three downed blocks. Katie Jorn served three aces.
Maize jumped out 17-8 in the first set against Derby, holding off a late Panther comeback. Maize jumped out 15-8 in the second game. Derby came back to tie 24-24, holding off two match points. Maize held off one game point, but Derby won it on its second — a downed block.
In the third game, Maize jumped out 14-9. Derby drew no closer than three the rest of the way.
Sage Baalman led Maize with 11 kills and three downed blocks. Swenson had 11 kills and a downed block. Cumpston had seven kills and a downed block. Tyler Downs had seven kills. Downs and Madison Orton each had three aces.
For Derby, Miller had 15 kills and two downed blocks. Brown had 10 kills and four downed blocks. Abby Elder had six kills.
Newton has a tough group of matches coming up, hosting top-ranked (Class 2A) and unbeaten Hillsboro, along with Great Bend, at 5 p.m. Thursday, followed by the Derby Invitational Saturday. Newton plays Hutchinson and Salina Central Tuesday in Hutchinson.
"Thursday is senior night," Porter said. "We know they're going to want to knock us down. We can't let them get in our heads."
"We keep telling the girls there's not one easy match on the schedule," Dibbens said. "Everybody wants to beat us. It's us taking care of the things we can take of. ... Hillsboro has a shot at winning (state) again this year. They always give us a tough game. They have (Alex) Ratzlaff. She's a sophomore and a great player. I don't know much about Great Bend. Our JV lost to them at their tournament. Sometimes it's good to have a match like that. You just go out there and worry about the things you need to work on."