Squaws claim 7th straight spike title

    OSSIAN — Bellmont overcame a spat of first game blahs, then outscored Eastbrook 16-3 to close out game one at Norwell Saturday afternoon en route to a 28th sectional volleyball championship.
    The Squaws, now 29-5, swept Heritage 3-0 in the semis and then did the same to the Panthers, 25-16, 25-17, and 25-10 to win their seventh straight sectional crown under Coach Craig Krull.
    The win puts No. 3 Bellmont at home tomorrow night versus No. 1 Yorktown in a regional showdown. The defending state champion Squaws will be seeking a 13th regional volleyball crown in the 7 p.m. meeting with the 33-2 Yorkies.
    "We could make excuses, like we had to wait two and a half hours to play that first match, but what it comes down to is that we phoned it in for the first half of the game, and then got going," admitted Krull.
    "If you win, you still go on, even if it's not pretty. We were struggling, but still found a way to win."
    A stiff defensive approach by Eastbrook seemed to frustrate Bellmont in that first game. Still, a Holly Hankenson ace put the Squaws up 9-5 in the opening game. Hitting and receiving errors lifted the Panthers to a 10-9 lead.
    Three kills by Panthers' middle hitter Kerri Guffey helped Eastbrook extend the lead to 13-9. Bellmont's Bailee Hankenson ended the madness with a kill. Janaya Wilder scored on a block, and after a mistake by Eastbrook, Bailee Hankenson scored on a block to tie the match.
    Payton Schultz, who had seven kills in the game and 19 for the title match, put Bellmont up for good (16-15) with a slam from the middle, then quickly added another point off a short set as Bellmont started to pull away. Erin Hunter delivered a fierce serve to the floor in the run.
    Bellmont scored the final seven points of that game. Melissa Mailand had a pair of kills in the run, Schultz had an ace during her six-point service run and Bailee Hankenson capped the game with a kill from the right side.
    Schultz jolted BHS out of a slow start in game two by ended a prolonged volley with a smash from the middle, then added another off a quick set by Steph Shoup.
    But the Panthers fired back and led 15-14 after a kill by Steph Rude. Holly Hankenson, who had eight kills in the game, tied the match with a score from the left side. A pair of Schultz aces and another Holly kill put Bellmont up. The Squaws scored the final five points of the game.
    "Me and P (Payton) connected really, really well tonight," said Shoup, who tallied 45 assists.
    She felt the quick sets "were awesome.  It's not really hard (to find her), I just hear here because she's so loud. I know where she's at and I know where to put it."
    Bellmont pulled away quickly in game three. A seven-point run, which started on a Wilder kill and was completed on a Wilder ace, put BHS up 21-6. Eastbrook, which won in a long five-game battle over Norwell in the semis, finished at 23-9.
    Holly Hankenson finished with 13 kills for the match, adding eight digs. Bailee had five kills, five digs and two assists. Wilder added six kills and two aces.
    Allison Gutierrez brought up 17 digs while Hunter contributed two aces and four digs in the BHS win. Natalie Busse came off the bench late to score a pair of kills.
    Krull credited Gutierrez for keeping the ship running. "Allison played very well. Maybe it was a senior thing and she was getting frustrated. She stepped up her (passing) game and everyone followed," praised the coach.
    He felt that the chemistry between Shoup and sophomore Holly Hankenson is improving. "Steph is trying to get it to Holly faster. Holly had four great swings in that second game, then one was off. We're still working on the timing there," said Krull.
    Bellmont also started slowly against Heritage, winning 25-21 in the first game, then adding 25-12 and 25-15 victories.
    Eastbrook lost the first two games to Norwell, 23-25 and 24-26, then won the final three 25-21, 25-22, and 15-13.
    Holly Hankenson led against Heritage with nine kills, adding eight digs, while Payton put down eight, as did Bailee Hankenson. Mailand scored five kills while Shoup churned up 33 assists and a pair of kills. Gutierrez had 12 digs and three aces while Hunter had an ace and seven digs.
    Sarah Norder recorded three kills. Heritage closed out at 19-13.
    "We know we're going to have good competition on Tuesday, so we have to pick it up," stated Gutierrez on the match with the top-ranked Yorkies.
    The winner of that Tuesday contest will take on the winner of the match between No. 6 Concordia (29-6) and No. 9 Fairfield (30-5) in the opening round of next Saturday's 3A Plymouth Semistate.