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MONROEVILLE—While crowd management was a big issue at Heritage on Thursday night, the Squaws quietly engaged a motivated Columbia City team in the opening round of sectionals managing a sweep in three sets 25-23, 26-24, 25-21.
Bringing signs and an abundance of support for the team, students from Bellmont were forced to sit in the Eastbrook section of the gym due to Norwell fans hanging around to see their future opponent for tomorrow as they were the winners of the first match.
It wasn't long into the first set, however, that the students were asked to sit down and cheer because some were blocking the view of a few Columbia City fans down the side of the bleachers. After some compromise at the start of set three, the Bellmont faithful were escorted to an isolated section near the end of the bleachers to cheer.
It did not put a damper on the spirit of the night, however.
"It had the feel of a championship atmosphere," noted Bellmont coach Craig Krull. "Their players and our players were battling back and forth but lucky for us were able to hold them off in the third set for the win."
The match certainly held a more prominent feel for both squads then the first time they played just a few weeks prior in NHC action. The scores were only slightly better looking as the Eagles gave the Squaws a battle then as well as on Thursday night when they seemed to be even more prepared for the Bellmont attack.
"You can tell that they made adjustments this time around," Krull noted. "Bailee (Hankenson) was able to throw down a few balls last time but they really moved their middle forward to help."
Bellmont's 5-3 lead in the first set was short lived giving way to a 9-7 Columbia City lead after a questionable lift call and few mental errors. A 6-0 BHS run would make it 13-9 forcing an Eagles timeout.
Krull discussed the officiating briefly afterwards, "As you go along in the tournament things will get called a lot tighter. I don't think it really got in our heads so much but it certainly was something we were aware of."
The Squaws maintained a lead into the first set with a 17-11 mark but a big kill from 6'2" senior Gabrielle Hazen made it 18-15 in favor of the Squaws and the lead suddenly did not feel quite so comfortable.
"To me it was all about the atmosphere," expressed Krull. "You win or go home. For our defense, we were just a step or so behind at times. Columbia City would make a run and we just couldn't hold a big lead all match long."
A Liv Fuelling kill pushed the match to 21-17 in favor of Bellmont but a 6-1 run orchestrated by Hazen's four kills give the Eagles a temporary 23-22 advantage.
Janaya Wilder righted the ship with a kill tying it at 23-23 followed by Holly Hankenson's smash for the lead. The final point was salvaged when Rachel Salerno made a diving dig effort that set up one last bomb from Wilder to end the threat.