By VINNIE PORTELL
Until Tuesday night, the Lady Indians of the Venice volleyball team hadn’t let their inexperience get the best of them.
Though there had been points and even a set that got away from them, Venice (4-1) had yet to lose until it hosted Cardinal Mooney (6-2) at the TeePee — losing in three sets (25-23, 25-23, 25-21).
“We absolutely had our opportunities,” Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. “Our inexperience showed tonight. We had chances to close out in the first two games and just didn’t do it. Our offense was on fire tonight despite a lot of miscues on our defense.
“It’s a process for us, and we’re looking at the big picture.”
Venice’s offensive firepower largely came from senior outside hitter Sadie Kluner, who kept her team within reach for most of the night.
At one point in the second set when Kluner got rolling, the announcer sounded like a broken record rattling off “Sadie Kluner with the kill.”
Though she finished with 20 kills and three aces with just one error and Amanda Wesolich (8 kills) and Kiki Montgomery (6 kills) added some sparks, it wasn’t enough for the Indians.
Led by the size and power of freshman Jordyn Byrd (6-foot-4) and junior Ashley Ekes (6-foot-1), Cardinal Mooney held off late rallies by Venice in the first two sets to take control of the match.
Venice played without starting middle hitter Paden Keller on Tuesday, who did not warm up and remained on the bench for the match. Her absence was felt as Venice struggled to defend the Cougars attack.
“We have some very young players on the floor, and we feel like we should have closed it out in games one and two there,” Wheatley said. “I liked our game plan, but they played a much cleaner game.”
Down two sets to none, the Indians fell behind in the third set and despite Kluner’s best efforts, couldn’t take a lead.
A chance to rebound from the first loss of the season will come on Thursday as Venice travels up to play Sarasota in its second district game of the season.
“I thought Sadie and Mandy had monster games hitting-wise,” Wheatley said. “We had 39 kills and six errors, it’s just that we’re not doing the little things right to beat a high-caliber team like Cardinal Mooney. But hey, it’s the fifth game of the year so we have a lot of growing team.
“I’ve said it all along, we’re going to be a much different team at the end of the year.”