By CAREY FOX
Times Sports Editor
MARTINSVILLE -- The Northview volleyball team has done plenty of things well this season in winning 31 games and advancing to the sectional semifinal, but on Saturday afternoon, Martinsville took most of those things away in claiming a 25-14, 25-15, 25-16 victory that sent the Artesians to the sectional championship match. For the Knights, the loss ends a great season too short with a 31-4 overall mark.
A strong and athletic Martinsville squad gained control of the match early on after Northview opened a 3-0 lead in game one. However, the Artesians got rolling from the service line after a kill by Gabby Fisher returned the serve to sophomore Alyxa Shields, who served up an ace.
Early hitting errors put the Knights behind the 8-ball as Martinsville opened up a 12-6 advantage. With Kelsie Wood serving for the Artesians, Northview freshman Kenzi Kumpf hit a pair of attacks wide before adding back-to-back kills. Briana Cook added a service ace and the Knights clawed within 15-12.
Returning the serve was problematic for the Knights in the match as the Artesians served zones to perfection and kept Northview from mounting consistent attacks at the net.
"We had scouted them enough and I hit every serve (in practice) that we saw today. It's a different environment," Northview coach Scott McDonald said. "In practice, it's relaxed and they are going to make every pass, but in this environment and what we had to deal with, it's tough. It just wasn't our day."
Martinsville's blockers and defense had plenty to do with that as Northview's varied attack at the net got few attacks compared to most matches as evidenced by a total of just 20 kills.
"(Martinsville) just did everything. They would hit a ball, we'd get a touch and it would be just out of reach of our defense. We'd take a swing, they'd get a touch and someone, and an eighth or ninth person would make a dive and keep the ball alive. We just got beat," McDonald said.
The second set got off to a disastrous start for the Knights, who needed a comeback, but the Artesians served out to an 11-0 start with the benefit of a couple of serves that ticked the net and fell for aces.
Northview attempted a comeback as Brylie Riddell posted a pair of kills mid-game to get the Knights to within 18-8 and Shelbi Morris added a successful attack with Taylor Hess following with an ace. Trailing 19-12, the Knights made a hitting error and Cailin Nix added a kill to put the game out of reach.
In game three, the set remained close as Northview battled to within 13-10 off one of Kumpf's six kills. Morris followed with another and the Knights were within 14-12 after one of Riddell's six kills. However, Martinsville responded to the challenge with a tip by Shields followed by one from Fisher to open the Martinsville margin to 17-13.
The Artesians played the angles at the net to near perfection in the semifinal and Shalyn Wilson found an open spot and a service ace put the Knights' at the brink of elimination. Shields finished the match with a kill and the Artesians moved on the championship match.
The Knights got seven digs from Audrey Clark and two from Alexus Bex. Senior Ashlen Buck provided 16 digs in her final high school match with her classmate, Briana Cook, adding 11 assists, a kill and seven digs. Mikayla Rowan added three kills and a block and Hess tallied three digs and five assists.
Afterwards, McDonald admitted it would be tough to say goodbye to a pair of seniors that meant a lot to the Northview program.
"Briana (Cook) has been great for us the last two years," McDonald said. "Of course, Ashlen (Buck) is the best defensive player I've ever seen. She's going to sign here pretty soon with a school. She's going to be extremely difficult to miss. Her and Briana have really set the tone for the environment of our practices and the nature of our team. I was just the cruise director, they captained our ship. I'm just proud of our kids, I love them like they are my own.
"We'll be fine, we're going to be back and we're going to win this sectional next year," a confident McDonald said of a team that had eight freshmen or sophomores on the sectional roster.
Class 4A Martinsville Sectional
Next match: Northview (31-4) ends the season while Martinsville advanced to the sectional championship.