Grizzlies stuff Pelicans

It's a given that Ashland's primary goal Tuesday night was to beat Klamath Union.

But when you haven't lost a conference match in five years and carry aspirations that go way beyond the regular season, it helps to have a few secondary goals.

So the No. 3-ranked Grizzlies wanted to win big, which they did, but they also wanted to work on attacking the lines, executing slides and putting balls away. They did all three against the overmatched Pelicans in a 25-7, 25-14, 25-9 Southern Sky Conference-opening rout at Ashland Middle School.

Senior middle blocker Niki Small was on the spiking end of most of those slides and finished with 16 kills and two blocks, while senior setter Callie McCoy finished with 18 assists. Ashland senior defensive specialist Monica Palmesano terrorized KU's service return defense with 12 aces and senior outside hitters Hayley Ross and Hannah Stocking finished with seven kills apiece.

"I think it went really well," Ashland coach Jodee Scott said. "We reached our goal on almost all of them."

The easy win came three days after the Grizzlies suffered a straight-game loss to top-ranked Summit in the quarterfinals of the Rogue Valley Classic, a tournament that served as a barometer for Ashland. The Grizzlies were able to hang with the Storm most of the way, but Summit used its hard-hitting attack to pull away late in each game.

"We can definitely compete at that level," Small said. "It was a big confidence booster."

That confidence remained high after Tuesday's match, which took less than an hour and was never in doubt.

Ashland won seven of the first eight points, then used an 8-1 run to take an 18-5 lead in the first game.

The second game was only slightly more competitive. The Grizzlies took a 5-1 lead on a smash by Small, but the Pelicans used a 5-1 run of their own to tie the game at 6-all. A kill by Stocking followed by consecutive aces by senior defensive specialist Elizabeth Westmoreland sparked a 9-1 Grizzly rally that gave them a 17-9 cushion. Small provided the exclamation point with a game-clinching kill.

Game 3 was highlighted by Palmesano's string of line-drive serves, which helped Ashland win five straight points and seize a 15-5 lead. Small and junior Teague Teece combined for three kills in four points as Ashland extended that lead to 20-6. Eight points later Small again provided the clincher, one of her most emphatic slams of the night.

"When the passers are on and the setters are on, that's what makes me look good," Small said. "So pretty much it's like if everybody else is on then I make everyone else look good, or I try to, but it's pretty much them doing all the work."

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