Opening day is always one of unknowns.
For the Newton High School volleyball team, a few questions were answered and a few more raised after a 3-1 finish at the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League pre-season classic Saturday at Ravenscroft Gym.
What was supposed to be a 16-team event at the Salthawk Activities Center in Hutchinson was broken down to three locations because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Attendance also was limited.
"We have a lot to work on, but that’s the same for everyone on day one of your season," Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said.
Newton downed Valley Center 25-15, 25-19; lost to sixth-ranked (Class 5A, KVA) McPherson 25-22, 27-25; beat Garden City 26-28, 25-15, 25-18; and beat Derby 25-16, 25-17.
McPherson finished the day 4-0, followed by Newton at 3-1, Derby at 2-2, Garden City at 1-3 and Valley Center at 0-4.
Newton was led by Asha Regier with 46 kills and five downed blocks in four matches.
"We had a pretty hard pool, so I was thinking about this for a pretty long time," Regier said. "I knew we had to come out strong. I was so excited when Dibbens told us we were going to play at home. I feel like we play so much better when we were on our home court."
Regier committed to NCAA Division II power Nebraska-Kearney.
"They’re ranked like no. 2 in the nation and they play in the same conference as my sisters (Emily and Lauren)," Asha said. "I got to watch them play a lot. Their team chemistry is so good. I love how they run their practices and I love the coaching staff."
Newton opened the day against Valley Center, jumping ahead 10-5 in the first set. The Railers extended the lead to as many as 10 in the win.
Newton struggled with serving errors in the second set, but pulled away 15-10 to force a Hornet time out. Newton traded points from there.
Regier led Newton with 13 kills and two downed blocks. Gracie Rains and Lindsey Antonowich each had three kills and a downed block. Olivia Antonwich served three aces.
Dylan Cochran led Valley Center with four kills and a downed block. Haley Sparks served two aces.
Newton trailed the first set against McPherson 14-9. Down 19-16, Newton made a 6-0 run. McPherson replied with a 6-2 run for the set. Newton fell behind 5-0 in the second set. The Railers climbed back within two, 16-14, only to give up a 4-0 run. Newton made a rally, aided by McPherson errors, to tie the set 22-22. Newton fought off two match points set by by Railer serving errors. A pair of Rhain Swanson spikes ended the match.
Swanson finished the match with 16 kills and a downed block. Katie Berg added five kills and a downed block.
Regier led Newton with 11 kills. Lindsey Antonowich had four kills. Marah Zenner added three kills and a downed block. Rains served three aces.
"I thought it was serving errors in crucial times," Dibbens said. "One or two errors don’t hurt you, but we had them in crucial times. We’d have a comeback then have an error. Or we’re in a close score with the chance to take the lead, and have an error. It’s something to work on. It wasn’t as bad as last year. I think we have a couple of other chances to play them. It’s a rivalry. I felt like we responded well the rest of the day. We bounced back well after that."
In Newton’s first set against Garden City, the Railers led 24-19, but the Buffaloes held off five straight set points. Newton held off Garden City’s first set point, but the Buffaloes put it away on their second.
Newton trailed 5-1 in the second set, but came back and took control.
Leading 18-6 in the third set, the Railers again took their foot off the gas, allowing Garden City back in the match. The Buffaloes pulled to within four before Newton was able to put it away.
Regier led Newton with 16 kills and two downed blocks. Regier also served four aces. Rains put down seven kills. Lindsey Antonowich put down three kills and two downed blocks, serving three aces.
For Garden City, Julie Calzonetti put down eight kills. Abby Ellerman had six kills with two downed blocks. Symone Simmons had six kills. Melody Flores had three kills with a downed block, serving four aces.
"We had a round off, and I felt like we had a match without any energy," Dibbens said. "In volleyball, any team can compete with anybody if they have energy. We’ve got to work on, no matter, who we’re playing, having the same excitement level."
Newton jumped out 19-13 in the first set against Derby, allowing just three more points the rest of the way. Newton jumped ahead 12-7 in the second set. Derby managed to get back within two, but the Railers replied with a run of their own to lead 17-11 and force the final Panther time out.
Regier and Rains each had seven kills with a downed block to lead Newton. Zenner had four kills with a downed block. Lindsey Antonowich had three kills and two downed blocks. Olivia Antonowich served two aces.
Addy Brown led Derby with four kills and a downed block. Adisyn Igo and Sophie Connor each had three kills. Lexi Pitts had two kills and downed two blocks. Morgan Humphrey served two aces.
"Gracie started to get on fire," Dibbens said. "She started playing more consistently. We will need that from her. She started to get on track. She was tentative, but she started to grow in that match. Marah was putting the ball over on the second hit. We need to use our middles a little bit more when we go up against a bigger block like McPherson and Maize South."
Newton opens AV-CTL I play at 5 p.m. Tuesday at 10th-ranked Maize South. Garden City also will be playing at the triangular. Maize South moved up from AV-CTL Division II.
"(Maize South) is solid," Dibbens said. "We know about them. This will be the league match. We have to use every hitter. We will have to pass well, because they like to serve aggressive. They have a good setter, so we have to read and anticipate. We have to play with a lot of energy."