Things might have looked a little different on the court for No. 5 McNary volleyball on Thursday, but it ended the same way most games have this season — a Celtic victory.
“Tonight we wanted to showcase some players who had earned opportunities,” head coach Crystal Ayres said.
In their third and final matchup with the North Salem Vikings, the Celtics (17-2, 8-1) won in straight sets (25-22, 25-16, 25-22). McNary didn’t drop a single set to North Salem (5-13, 0-9) this season.
But the energy in the building to start the night didn’t feel like it was at the same level. The student section was seated for most of the match, with none of the familiar chants and cheers that are normally heard.
And maybe that, mixed with a few new starters in the rotation, resulted in the seemingly slower than usual start for the Celtics. But they fought through.
“They were having trouble finding their groove at first, but I’m so proud that they did,” Ayres said. “And some players had the opportunity to step up and lead tonight, which is new for them on the court. Those were two pieces that are preparing us for getting more players on the court, as well as for next season.”
One of those players that took advantage of that opportunity was senior Elia Garnica, who had the chance to play libero for the Celtics on Thursday.
“She hustles and hits the floor and I love how she commanded the back row tonight,” Ayres said. “I really just want to give her props.”
Ayres also commended Hailey Schinof and Taylor Detrant, who start and play regularly, but were asked to run a 6-2 system like the Celtics ran last season.
Even with the straight set win, things did look a little rocky at times for the Celtics. Perhaps it was having some different players on the court. Perhaps it was the 6-2 system. But at times the Celtics did appear to have their issues in the backline and with spacing.
“Serve and serve receive are the most important two skills you can have all the way through your collegiate career,” Ayres said. “Knowing who’s passing next to you and changing passing patterns always affects efficiency. Tonight, figuring out who had which seam and what-not, they had lots of opportunities to grow.”
They led from the start in the first set, but could never fully pull away from the Vikings. The Celtics would take a three point lead, the Vikings would get a point back. The Celtics would go up four, the Vikings would chip away.
Even in the second set, where McNary held a commanding lead, North Salem was still able to gain some momentum and claw back in.
But each time in the first two sets that it looked like the Vikings were gaining momentum, McNary senior middle blocker Emily Blagg was there to kill it.
In the first set, after the Vikings tied it at 22-22, Blagg earned a point with a kill, then moved back to serve for the final two Celtic points of the set.
In the second set, again as the Vikings cut into a large Celtic lead, Blagg again took the wind out of their sails.
“We lean on Emily a lot,” Ayres said. “She’s a great player, she has the repertoire going all across the front row as well as setting a great block. It’s not surprising to me that tonight when we needed her to step up she was right there. She’s consistently there for us.”
The Celtics have the weekend off before traveling to South Salem for their next match on Tuesday, Oct. 11.