By Ben Murphy
They hung close, but in the end the host Clare Lady Pioneers fell to Meridian Wednesday night, suffering a straight set loss to the Jack Pine Conference volleyball leaders 25-22, 25-17 and 29-27.
“We competed with them, almost point-for-point,” Clare head coach Tom Hurdle said. “They just have a lot of height. We didn’t give up. We played hard all the time, which is what we’ve done all year.”
After claiming the first set 25-22, Meridian jumped out to a 22-14 lead in the second as well. A service error helped cut the Pioneer deficit to 22-15, though Meridian bounced back on a Clare serve-error to cut the lead to 23-15.
Courtney English had a tip-kill to cut the gap to 23-16, though Clare only managed one more point on a Meridian service error to fall 25-17 in the second set.
The Lady Mustangs opened up a 3-1 lead in the third set but a strong spike by Anna Giacomozzi cut the gap to 3-2.
Meridian’s Blake Garner spiked the ball to make it 6-2 later in the set but Giacomozzi answered with a spike of her own and an ace to cut the gap to 6-4.
Giacomozzi added two more aces and Meridan was whistled for a lift to help Clare tie the set 8-8, though later on Meridian pulled ahead 14-11 on a net foul.
A long Clare scoring run, highlighted by an English tip-kill and another Giacomozzi ace put Clare up 19-16, and after a Meridian point, Erica Packard scored two straight spikes to put Clare ahead 21-17.
Bailey Reger put the Lady Pioneers up 22-17 with an ace, but after a kill by Garner, Melissa Reeves served consecutive aces to close the gap to 22-20.
Clare took a 25-24 lead on a Meridian attack error, and took another one point lead at 26-25 on a Giacomozzi spike but a spike by Alyssa Van Nortwick tied it at 26-26.
A tip kill by Garner put Meridian up 28-27 and Bri Yaroh closed out the game at 29-27 with a spike.
“(We) had three match points but could not put the ball down against a very good Meridian team,” Hurdle said of the third set. “They never gave up and showed they can play well against very good competition.”
Giacomozzi led the team with 13 kills, 12 digs, seven aces and was 13-of-15 serving. Ashley Petree had 16 digs, three kills and two blocks, English had 29 digs and six kills, Katelynn smith was 14-of-14 serving, had 24 assists, nine dings and one block, Bailey Reger had nine digs, Packard had eight digs and two kills and Corinne Wezensky had one kill and one block.
Clare (17-18-3 overall, 5-6 JPC) plays in a quad meet on Wednesday.