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Alex knocks off Ole Miss in four to take lead in CIC

BLOCK: Mississinewa’s Cailyn Bolser (12) blocks the shot of Alexandria’s JennaReece VanBlair in the second set of the Indians’ 3-1 loss to the host-Tigers Tuesday evening in a battle for the top spot in the Central Indiana Conference lead.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

ALEXANDRIA — Sometimes in sports, to be the champ you’ve got to beat the champ.

Right now the balance of power in Central Indiana Conference volleyball is located in Alexandria, and the Tigers aren’t yet ready to relinquish the CIC crown.

Mississinewa’s tall and talented volleyball team took a six-match winning streak to Alexandria Tuesday evening to likely decide the 2018 CIC crown, and entered a confident team fresh off winning the Rossville Invitational on Saturday.

But a slow start set the tone for the evening and the Indians spent much of the match playing catch up in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers. Alexandria won 25-12, 25-27, 27-25, 25-22 to take retain the traveling CIC spike and take control of the championship race.

“The slow start didn’t help and it kind of set the pace, really, for the evening - for the start of every set,” said Ole Miss coach Jody Bolser. “I’m glad we went four but we didn’t perform.

“We give them credit. They hit hard. They see the court well and they hit good shots,” she added. “That being said, our response to their kills was let’s give them a four-point run not based on what Alexandria was doing to us, based on what we were doing to ourselves.”

Seven of Alexandria’s first 10 points to start the first set came via a variety of Ole Miss hitting, receiving or passing errors and the Indians were quickly staring at a 10-3 deficit and would draw no closer than within six points the entire set.

Ole Miss put together five straight points early in the second set to move in front 7-3 and held a slim lead until Alexandria scored seven straight to go up 19-15.

The Tigers were able to maintain a slight advantage and even had a serve to win the set at 24-22, but the Indians reeled off seven of the final eight to win set two, 27-25.

Much like the second set, the final two sets were played closely, but Alexandria spent much of the time as a lead with the Indians in constant and intense pursuit.

The Tigers opened up a 14-7 lead, their largest of the third set, before the Indians stormed by scoring eight of nine points to even the score at 20-20. Ole Miss could never wrest away the lead from Alex, but the set was tied at 21, 24 and 25 before a tip score and spike for a kill by Lauren Dungan secured the 27-25 win for the Tigers.

Alex scored four of the first five points in the clinching set and eventually moved in front, 14-6 before Ole Miss scored four straight to close to 14-10.

But the Tigers scored the next three and left Ole Miss fighting furiously to stay within striking distance. The Indians drew within two at 23-21 and 24-22 but a passing error ended the final set at 25-22.

Despite losing All-American Megan Miller and All-CIC performer Blaine Kelly, Alexandria still featured a young and very athletic team that presented issues for the Indians talented front liners.

“The good thing about this team is that they were ready to step in as soon as Megan and Blaine and our other front row hitters left,” said Tigers’ coach Caitlin Foster. “They wanted that challenge so they were ready.”

“We told our blockers your job is to get touches tonight. We gave them some girls to key in on and that was their priority was this specific girls,” Foster added. “Then we told our back row you’re just going to have to get low and dig in, and they did. I thought the team effort was there.”

Sophomores Kaitlyn Bair and Dungan led Alexandria with 19 and 14 kills, respectively. Junior Mckenzie Adams had 49 assists.

Ole Miss was led by senior Cailyn Bolser with 20 kills, six blocks and 23 digs while senior Halle Planck added seven kills and seven blocks. Senior Madison Stanley finished with 15 digs for the Indians.

Jody Bolser was obviously disappointed with the loss, but with the Indians’ mindset to start out the match.

“Coming into a conference match, especially one at the this level, not slow but nervous. Not overly confident, but actually a lack of confidence, not in one another but ourselves,” Bolser said she sensed. “I think individual play, that’s where were, we were in our heads a little bit…I think we came in kind of slow, on our heels. We kind of played that cat and mouse that we can’t get away with against a team like Alex.”