Though it was a preseason match for the Venice volleyball team at the TeePee on Tuesday night, the crowd and atmosphere made it hard to tell.
Hundreds of pumped up fans came out to support the Lady Indians against Bishop McLaughlin Catholic as they opened the preseason in thrilling fashion. After Venice stormed out to a 2-0 lead, the Hurricanes responded by taking the next three sets and the win (25-22, 25-15, 17-25, 18-25, 13-15).
“I liked the fight they showed the whole match,” Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. “We came in tonight having lost 10 seniors. This is gonna be a team that progresses throughout the whole season.
“This was a great preseason match for us. We wanted to try and get a swing at it at the end there, but the win or the loss doesn’t really matter. It’s a matter of fighting through stuff.”
Following pre-game introductions, senior outside hitter Sadie Kluner (team-high 22 kills) got her big night started with a kill for the Indians’ first point of the match. As Venice took a brief lead in the middle of the set, the home crowd came alive with cheers and chants as if it were a playoff match.
However, Bishop McLaughlin kept it neck-and-neck until timely digs from Ireland Ferguson helped set up Kluner to seal the set.
In the second set, Venice appeared to take full control.
With Chirsten Montgomery getting blocks and kills at the net and Kluner and Amanda Wesolich (10 kills) adding on more kills, the Indians took a 10-point win in the second set, coming within just one set of victory.
But the Hurricanes — a 30-1 team in 2018 — wouldn’t go away quietly.
Taking advantage of the size and power of their two 6-foot-3 front-row players in Maddie Snider and Audrey Koenig, the Hurricanes pulled away in both of the ensuing sets to tie it all up at 2-2.
“I thought the first two sets we came out on fire,” Wheatley said. “We eased up a little in set three and tried to recover, and we just made too many errors.”
With the match on the line in the fifth set, the Lady Indians found themselves trailing, 9-14, and used kills from Gabbie Atwell (7 kills) and Wesolich to cut the deficit to one.
However, the effort wasn’t enough as the Indians couldn’t come up with a dig on match point. Even though Venice wasn’t able to come away with a win, it was a valuable experience to have in what served as the first varsity game for 11 Indians players, Wheatley said.
The preseason wraps up with another home match on Thursday against Barron Collier at 5 p.m. before the games begin to count — starting on Tuesday, Aug. 20 as Venice travels north to take on Tampa Prep at 7.
“It’s preseason,” Wheatley said. “Losing 15-13 against a nationally ranked team is OK. Even whether it counts or not, it’s great to play a game like we did tonight. That’s why we schedule the teams we do.”