By Ty Bartell
AUSTINTOWN OH- As the midway point of the volleyball season has come to pass, multiple teams are gearing up for a lengthy upcoming tournament run. Both The Austintown-Fitch Falcons and The Girard Indians are in that boat and both set a collision course with each other on Monday evening. Both squads came in with 11 wins on the season and both were ranked in the top 10 for the YSN Power 25! Fitch was ranked 3rd while Girard was 9th to start the last week of September; meaning that the matchup was the meeting of two premier programs. In last season’s edition of this matchup, The Indians took the match in straight sets rather convincingly, setting up plenty of intrigue for this year’s battle!
Both teams alternated scores to start the opening set as they got a feel for one another’s team setup. With all the premier talent going back-and-forth, it was Rylie Simons who started the rally behind the service line for Fitch, propelling The Falcons to the 25-13 opening set win! Applying the pressure to Girard, now down 1-0 in the match, The Indians battled back behind the play of Bree Latell and Nicolette Cochran in set two. Despite a late rally by Austintown, Girard claimed the set in a close 25-23 win.
With the set count even at one apiece, it turned the match to a best of three with the advantage on the line in the third set. The Falcons, once again, rallied behind Rylie Simons at the service line. Emphatically taking the third set 25-10 to regain the advantage. However, Girard responded in the perfect way, by grabbing, holding and maintaining a lead for the majority of set four. Fitch fought, but Girard was too much as The Indians forced set five by winning set four 25-18.
In a critical fifth set with the match hanging in the balance, both teams were exchanging points with Girard playing from in front, alternating between a 1 and 2 point lead. In the middle of the set, The Falcons, Rylie Simons would break the programs all-time record in assists, previously held by Emma Bartlett at 1425. Fitch would rally from this moment to take a late lead and run with it all the way to win set five 15-12 and the match 3-2!
Rylie Simons would finish with 48 assists, finishing with 1432 in her career so far, thus overtaking the pre-rally assist record previously held by Stacie Mang at 1431 as Mang was the referee in the match, bringing the special moment full-circle. Simons would also notch the double-double with 13 digs and chipping in an impressive, team leading, 8 aces behind the service line! Jordan Smith also recorded the double-double for Fitch in kills (22) and digs (13). Afton Roby also had double digit kills (13) in the evening while hitting .550 and grabbing 3 aces. Morgan Roby was “Ms.Utility” as she was the makeshift libero for the night, leading the team with 24 digs.
Girard’s Bree Latell led the match in kills with 31 and 14 digs in the double-double performance. Nico Cochran also had the kills (12) and digs (10) double-double. Bailey Walters led The Indians in assists with 42 while also recording a block and an ace on the night.
Fitch (12-3) now stays in non-conference action with a road matchup against The Cardinal Mooney Cardinals (7-9) on Tuesday, September 26th. On the other hand, Girard (11-3) will jump back into Northeast 8 (NE8) conference action, also on Tuesday, against the red-hot Raiders of South Range (10-4) who are winners of seven straight!