Defense-minded Hillcrest topples Hollister in straight sets

Communication and court awareness are vital elements for successful volleyball play.

A size advantage certainly doesn’t hurt.

Hillcrest put all three on display Tuesday night, downing Hollister in straight sets (25-14, 25-14).

The Lady Hornets raced out to an early lead in the first set, thanks to a strong service game from middle hitter Rachel Pfeifer.

The all-region senior ripped off six straight points with two aces to give Hillcrest an 8-2 advantage.

HOLLISTER VS. HILLCREST PHOTOS

Facing an early deficit, Hollister was unable to rally and string together more than two points during the set, eventually falling 25-14.

While Hillcrest has a stable of capable hitters in Pfeifer, Sierra Baker and Jocelyn Tidwell, it was the Lady Hornets’ strong defensive effort that turned back any potential rallies.

Pfeifer, in particular, seemed to be everywhere at once on the court.

Hillcrest head coach Robin Collins was quick to point out Pfeifer’s leadership and tenacity.

“We rely on Rachel a lot for offense at the net,” Collins said. “People forget what a weapon she can be from the back row. She’s always been a great leader for our team, and our kids relax when she goes back to serve.
When she’s running the show, they relax and they play a lot better.”

In the second set, it was Hollister’s turn to stake out an early lead.

Strong play from setter Skyler Buck, middle hitter Raven Ross and libero Caylee Kaempfer gave the Lady Tigers a 7-4 advantage before a Hillcrest rally knotted the score at 8-8.

Following a back-and-forth affair over the next several points, Pfeiffer rotated back to the service line once more with the Lady Hornets holding a slim, 15-13 lead.

Following up her first-set performance, Pfeifer went on another service streak, notching eight straight points and a third ace of the match.

While her killer instinct was on full display, Hillcrest’s senior leader acknowledged the pressure-filled moment.

“I was nervous the whole time serving,” Pfeifer said. “I was just thankful I was able to get my serves over, and I have a team to help me when my serves didn’t ace. It was amazing to watch my team connect like that. I was just so thankful I didn’t miss my serves.”

For Hollister and coach Cindy Swatek, the match was a prime opportunity to work against a bigger, aggressive team. After falling into a huge hole during in the first set, the scrappy Lady Tigers rallied early in the second and regained momentum for a brief stretch.

In the end, however, Hillcrest’s size and spacing proved to be too much to overcome.

“As big as a volleyball court is, you can only cover so much,” Swatek said. You have to rely on your blockers to take an area of the court, and tonight they were just up and over us. Once you have a hitter that can hit over the top of a block, all your defensive angles change. The pace of the game caught up with us tonight, but it’s August. We’re learning, and we’ll get there.”

Both teams are set to open up conference play. Hillcrest (2-1) travels to Waynesville Thursday, while Hollister (2-5) hosts Blue Eye on Tuesday following the holiday break.

Varsity final:  Hillcrest – 2, Hollister – 0 (25-14, 25-14)

JV final:  Hillcrest – 2, Hollister – 1 (25-19, 20-25, 15-9)

Frosh final:  Hollister – 1, Hillcrest – 0 (25-20)