LEXINGTON TWP. — Marlington’s volleyball team celebrated Senior Night and inched closer to a fourth straight conference title as the Dukes turned back rival West Branch 25-14, 25-14, 28-26 in Eastern Buckeye Conference action Thursday evening in the Marlington gym.
“I’m so proud of my girls, especially on Senior Night and just the vibe that my team had tonight,” praised Marlington coach Stephanie Tortola. “They were so excited, not to play for themselves but to play for the seniors, and when you have that energy in the house, that’s a good thing.”
With the win, the Dukes improved to 12-4 overall and remained perfect in the EBC at 9-0 with three league matches left.
Before the match, Marlington honored its two senior players in Morgan Campbell and Lauren Graffice.
With the setback, West Branch, which is in second place in the EBC standings, is now 12-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
“It’s been the same thing all season in that we start slow,” explained West Branch coach Penny DeShields of her team’s losses in the first two sets.
Leading the Dukes were junior Jillian Fellers (14 points, four blocks), junior Madison Wade (11 kills), junior Mallory Bennett (25 assists) and senior Morgan Campbell (19 digs).
“West Branch always plays great defense and they always give us a great game, so it is exciting to play them,” said Tortola. “They have elite athletes over there but I thought our girls were very prepared and came out swinging hard and we were able to have great serving and a great offensive game.”
Junior standout Sydney Mercer had some big power kills and was one of the Warriors’ leaders in that department.
“She [Mercer] is just a good athlete all-around in softball, [basketball and volleyball],” said DeShields. “She can do anything and she’s good at it.”
Leading the Warriors in service points were senior Riley Tuel (12 points), senior Bailey Campbell (eight points), sophomore Claire Brunner (six points) and sophomore Adele Peters (five points).
Much like their first meeting in Beloit in September, the Dukes took control early and never trailed in winning the first two sets by identical scores of 25-14.
But the third set was ultra-competitive, as there were seven different lead changes.
“They did [settle in during the third match],” said DeShields of her team. “We just needed to play two more like that.”
West Branch looked in control of taking the third set as the Warriors held as much as a five-point (22-17) advantage over the Dukes. That occurred after Riley Tuel served seven consecutive points. But Marlington rallied and outscored West Branch 8-3 to tie things at 25-25 and won it at 28-26 when Duke junior Jillian Fellers tipped a return into an open area in the West Branch defense which it couldn’t return.
“That [third set win] was very exciting,” said Tortola. “West Branch always gives us a great game and our girls just came out on fire because it was a big game for us with good competition.”
Tortola is proud of the tradition Marlington has developed in volleyball.
“The program is just growing and it should be for several more years and we’re excited about that,” she said. “We have great, committed girls who love this game and it’s fun.”
The Dukes return to action Tuesday with an EBC match against visiting Salem.
“Salem is another nice defensive team this year, we played them [earlier] and did well against them, but you never know, so we’re always working hard every day,” said Tortola.
West Branch will also play Tuesday when the Warriors play host to Minerva in EBC play.
“We have to bounce back,” said DeShields. “What defines you as a team is your reaction [coming back from a loss].”