Small-led Grizzlies pick apart Eagles

The way things have been going, people around the valley are probably already sick of hearing Niki Small's name.

Too bad, though, because if the senior keeps turning in performances like the one she had on Tuesday, those folks are just going to have to hang in there until basketball season.

The 6-foot-1 middle blocker showed off yet another dimension of her game, racking up an unprecedented 14 service aces to go along with 12 kills, en route to yet another Southern Sky Conference sweep for the Ashland High volleyball team.

The third-ranked Grizzlies moved to 6-0 in conference play with a convincing 25-12, 25-15, 25-12 win over Eagle Point, which dropped to 1-4 in the SSC.

"It was just one of those nights for Niki," Ashland coach Jodee Scott said. "They had a hard time getting her serve under control, and sometimes that happens, but she was just good from all over the floor tonight."

The Eagles flopped around the court early and often trying to contend with Small's hits, whether they came from at the net or around the service area, as she set the pace with six Game 1 kills amidst some substitution patterns that were more liberal than usual for Scott. The third-year head coach noted that her team is still battling some sickness, accounting for the different lineups.

Eagle Point tried to make the match interesting in the opening game, but after the Eagles built a 15-11 lead, Ashland went on a 10-1 run to gain an early advantage.

After Eagle Kristin Wyatt's kill tied the second game at 12-12, the Grizzlies ran off 13 of the next 16 points as junior Samantha Boehnke finished off the frame with a kill down the sideline after hooking up with setter Callie McCoy.

"We were focusing a lot on just getting better as the game went on," Boehnke said. "When you have a hitter contributing from the back row to the front row, you know you can get points in bunches but we just want to be more consistent."

Scott agreed, pointing out that she'd like to see the Grizzlies come out with more energy but get stronger as the match goes on.

"We've talked a lot about holding off other teams' runs," she said. "There's been a tendency to kind of let teams hang around or let them get back in it when we have the opportunities to put them away, but I think we took a step forward tonight."

Ashland again fended off an Eagles' rally to start the third game, streaking to 10 straight points after digging themselves a 3-6 hole. Senior outside hitter Hannah Stocking, usually one of Ashland's central contributors, sat out the first two games after recent sickness but came on to close out the match with a pair of kills and an ace.

"We haven't had a team out there in the last few weeks that has been completely healthy, so this has kind of been a tough stretch for us to get by," said Scott, probably not taking into account how much tougher the stretch has been for Ashland's opponents. "The goal tonight was to come out and be the aggressors though, and I think we were pretty consistent in that area."

Boehnke, who had one of her biggest nights of the year with nine kills, said the Grizzlies' run at the Clearwater Classic tournament in Bend last weekend could have been a turning point for the team.

While the Grizzlies were tripped up by second-ranked Summit and St. Mary's (Portland), a semifinal appearance and a win against sixth-ranked Mountain View — a match that Boehnke said was the best she's ever been a part of — made the Grizzlies feel a little more justified with their high ranking.

Scott agreed: "You hear about the teams up their all the time, what they're doing and how good they are, but we never really know how we measure up until we see them during the postseason. To get a chance to go up and prove to ourselves already that we can compete with these teams is something that is really going to help us moving forward."

Sophomore Piper Cantrell, turning into one of Ashland's most reliable players at the libero spot, was steady again on Tuesday with a match-high 19 digs. McCoy had 21 assists, while outside hitter Hayley Ross chipped in 12 kills.

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