STERLING – After a tight opening set Thursday night at Newman, the second set between the Comets and the Princeton Tigers featured a couple of pretty big swings – both at the net and on the scoreboard.
But Newman’s final run came at the perfect time, and the Comets rallied from an early deficit to win 25-19, 25-21 in a battle between the two undefeated teams in the Three Rivers East.
“I think it shows a lot about our team,” Newman senior hitter Kiley Sanders said. “We didn’t let down even though we got behind, and we were able to pick it back up when we were going slow, and we had good support from our teammates and the bench, and we were able to pull through and get the points that we needed.”
Sanders and Aidan Brown got it going early on in the first set for the Comets (11-2, 5-0 TRAC East), who took a 7-4 lead. But Princeton battled back, and built leads of 12-10 and 13-11 on a block and a kill by Madison Richards.
But with her twin sister Macaire at the service line, Aidan Brown spiked a pair of kills around her own block, then served a pair of points following a sideout on a Lauren McCarty kill for an 18-14 lead.
Princeton (7-5, 5-1) rallied to within 18-17 and 19-18 on Newman hitting errors, but two kills by Sanders made it 22-19, then Aidan Brown rotated to the front row and slammed three straight kills to close out the opening set.
But any momentum was quickly squashed by Princeton, as the Tigers jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the second set.
“We had our best server on the line,” Princeton coach Andy Puck said of the second-set surge. “Katie Bates is our best server, and we got it started with her back there.”
It forced Newman to huddle up and regroup.
“We took a timeout and just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to calm down. We can hang with them,’ and we brought it together and brought the energy we needed and came together as a team,” Aidan Brown said.
Out of that timeout, Ally Clevenger got a kill on a roll shot, then Sanders and Aidan Brown each spiked kills, Brown’s from the back row, and then Brown served an ace to make it 8-6. Consecutive kills by Clevenger and Sierra Williams a couple of points later tied the set at 9-9.
“We started off with low energy, and once we realized we needed to pick that up to be able to pull through the game, we did just that,” Sanders said. “So by bringing up our energy and motivating each other and working through our mistakes, we were able to come back.”
Kills by Maya Gartin and Addison Grove and back-to-back Newman hitting errors gave Princeton a 14-10 lead, but the Comets battled back again. After a pair of Tigress miscues, Aidan Brown smacked two more kills, then Williams reeled off three straight points on Princeton hitting errors to put Newman up 17-15.
“We were able to get our mojo back and kind of just work through it,” Sanders said. “We got our passes up, and that led to us getting our kills, and we fixed our mistakes and got through it.”
An Aidan Brown kill made it 18-16, then a Macaire Brown ace made it 19-16. Princeton got back within 21-19, but Sanders ripped back-to-back kills, then Princeton had a hitting error to get to match point, then a couple of points later, a net serve finished things out.
The biggest adjustments for Newman came on defense and ballhandling. The Comets finally started to get consistent touches on the Princeton spikes, and after a choppy start to the second set, Newman’s passing improved and setters Macaire Brown and Shae McNeill were able to get their hitters the ball in more ideal spots.
“In the first set, we were kind of struggling with finding our blocks and making it easier on our back row,” Sanders said, “but once we figured out where they were hitting and cleaned up our blocks a little bit, we were able to pass easier in the back row. We were lining up in between the seams with the block so we can get the pass up.”
“Our defense was definitely a little rough in the second set, but Macaire and Shae did a really good job of finding the ball where it was and getting it up to us,” Aidan Brown added. “And when we have two strong hitters in the front row, it’s kind of easy for us to calm down and get hot. We started to demolish balls in the front row, and we kept it going.”
Aidan Brown finished with 12 kills, seven points and five digs, while Sanders added eight kills, five points and a team-high 12 digs. Macaire Brown and McNeill each dished 12 assists, and Brown also had six digs. Clevenger spiked three kills, and McCarty added four points and two kills.
Bates led Princeton with 11 assists, and also had two kills and two aces. McKenzie Hecht spiked five kills, Madison Richards added four kills and a block, and Abby Peterson had 13 digs and four points. Taylor Wetsel chipped in 10 digs, a kill, a block and an ace.
“I told our team afterward that if you would’ve told me that we’d be 5-0 in the conference coming over here with our best player, Kenzie Coleman, only playing back row because of injury, I would’ve giggled at you,” Puck said. “And then to come in here and play another undefeated, very quality, experienced team … we battled, and I could not be prouder of my kids. At the end of the day, if you give your team enough chances to win, that’s all you can do – and that’s what we did. We just got beat by experience; we’re young, but we’re hungry, and we’re getting better.”
Newman def. Princeton 25-19, 25-21
Star of the match: Aidan Brown, Newman, 12 kills, 7 points, 5 digs, 1 block, 1 ace
Key performers: Kiley Sanders, Newman, 8 kills, 12 digs, 5 points; Macaire Brown, Newman, 12 assists, 6 digs, 4 points, 1 ace; Shae McNeill, Newman, 12 assists; Katie Bates, Princeton, 11 assists, 2 kills, 2 aces; McKenzie Hecht, Princeton, 5 kills; Madison Richards, Princeton, 4 kills, 1 block
Up next: Oregon at Newman, 6 p.m. Tuesday