Nelsonville-York Buckeyes

Nelsonville-York's Ryleigh Giffin serves during a match against Alexander. Giffin had 11 kills and four aces in the Buckeyes four-set win at Athens on Thursday. 

Nelsonville-York's Madison Booth seemingly couldn't do anything wrong on Thursday. 

The junior setter was surrounded by hitters who were in a rhythm, and she was delivering pinpoint passes all over Athens High School's McAfee Gymnasium. 

"When everyone's on their game, we are just unstoppable it feels like," Booth said. "We can do anything. Everyone in the rhythm, we can just get our offense and defense going."

The Buckeyes had everything clicking against Athens, taking a 3-1 (25-22, 24-26, 25-17, 25-17) victory over the Bulldogs.

Booth handed out 50 assists, as Nelsonville-York got better as the match wore on.

"Madison Booth has great hands, probably some of the best hands in the league," N-Y coach Wayne Dicken said. "If she gets a pass somewhat close to her, we feel confident that we can put it down."

The Buckeyes had four players hit double figures in kills, led by Mackenzie Hurd's 21. 

Hurd was a full-time starter as a freshman, and looks like a seasoned veteran so far this season as a sophomore.  

"I'm not sure I've ever coached a more competitive athlete than Mackenzie Hurd," Dicken said. "She works to get herself better every day, in practice and in games and even outside of practice. She's always working hard to make her game better. As only a sophomore, she's really stepping into a leadership role. We're going to rely on her for a lot the rest of the season."

Mackenzie's older sister, senior Haley Hurd, also added 12 kills. Ryleigh Giffin had 11 kills, and Brittlyn Call finished with 10 kills, making it difficult for Athens' defense to zero in on one target. 

"That's the great thing about this team — we feel comfortable setting anyone on this team, anyone who's in the front row or even the back row," Dicken said. 

And like any true setter would, Booth was quick to point out the defensive efforts of libero Grace Sinnott, defensive specialist Joscelyn Heller and Mackenzie Hurd's back-row efforts. 

"Joscelyn, Grace and Mackenzie, when they're in the back row, they just give me the perfect pass and I can set up all my hitters," Booth said. "I have all my options. Brittlyn and Haley really established our middles tonight, and we really got them going."

The win didn't come easy though, as Athens (4-5, 1-2 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) went point-for-point with the Buckeyes the first two sets. 

Athens led the opening set 19-14 after a kill from Bailey Cordray-Davis. 

The Buckeyes  (4-3, 1-2 TVC-Ohio) were able to stage a rally, scoring six points in a row at one point to lead 23-20 after a Booth ace. 

Madison Deeter's kill was followed by a Sinnott ace, and the Buckeyes struck first with the 25-22 rally. 

Booth said seniors Sinnott and Heller helped the Buckeyes get their energy up for the comeback. 

"When they got up on us we really lost our energy," she said. "We lost our communication. Grace really told us to get our energy up, Joscelyn got our energy up and that's what really got us over the edge. Screaming, getting points, getting our momentum again."

The Buckeyes nearly did it again in the second set after trailing Athens 24-20. 

Giffin served three aces in a row to force a 24-24 tie, but the Bulldogs didn't blink. Summer Gilkey recorded a kill, and Sarah Webb served an ace to allow Athens to tie the match. 

The Buckeyes weren't fazed by the setback, as they controlled the rest of the match. 

Nelsonville-York pulled away from a 13-12 lead in the third set to eventually go ahead 21-15 after a Haley Hurd kill. 

When Athens cut the lead to 21-17, Booth found Haley Hurd and Call for kills, then Sinnott served one of her five aces to help Nelsonville-York take the 25-17 win. 

Nelsonville-York never trailed in the fourth set, jumping ahead 12-5 after a Giffin block. 

Athens' last chance came after Kristina Rana's kill forced a N-Y timeout, the lead cut to 17-13. 

Booth got back to dishing out assists, finding Haley Hurd and Giffin to establish a 20-13 edge.

"I think our girls playing as a team and their attitudes and just the aggressiveness on the court is something that we could have done to improve, but I think Nelsonville played their game and they played it all night," first-year Athens coach Olivia Pokas said. 

Booth's 50th and final assist came to Call, allowing the Buckeyes to win 25-17 and beat Athens for the third time in a row over the last two seasons. 

Dicken said everything clicked the final two sets for the Buckeyes because they focused on taking care of the small details. 

"We just started doing the little things better, trusting each other on tips, covering blockers," he said. "We've preached every game since the first week of the season, we've got to do the little things right, because the first week, even week and a half, we kind of relied on just hitting the ball and didn't do the little things that make a good volleyball team a great volleyball team."

Webb led Athens with 14 kills, seven assists and three aces. Gilkey added 11 kills, while Margaret Gunderson and Cordray-Davis each had four kills. 

The Bulldogs will have a chance to continue to improve as they get deeper into the TVC-Ohio slate. They've already played in two weekend tournaments, leading to six non-league games but only three league games through the season's first three weeks. 

"We had a bunch of different lineups that we've been working with, so I still think that we're trying to get that cohesiveness," Pokas said. "We've seen it a little bit more as we've played in tournaments throughout the season, but I think we're still just getting there."

The Buckeyes appear to have found some of that cohesiveness, winning three in a row after a 1-3 start to the season. 

Thursday's win allowed Nelsonville-York to also earn its first league victory of the season after opening up against TVC-Ohio titans Vinton County and Alexander. 

"That's our goal, to stay in the top half of the league through the first half of the season," Dicken said. "If we can stay in that top three, then we feel like we have a good chance going through the second half of the season to take care of business and have a chance to complete for a title."

Email at kwiseman@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @KevinWmessenger

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