STREATOR — It was not the way PHS coach Andy Puck wanted to see his Princeton Tigresses start out in Tuesday’s Class 3A regional opener against Morris.
The Tigresses seemed out of sorts in the first set, overwhelmed by the Redskins in a 25-14 defeat. While they raised their play in the second set, the Tigresses’ luck and season ran out in a 25-21 defeat at Pops “Dale” Gymnasium in Streator. They bow out at 28-8.
“We got outplayed, that’s all there` is to it,” Puck said. “We didn’t execute. We are just overwhelmed. It’s a lack of postseason experience, that’s all there is to it. Unfortunately, until we battle a little more we don’t get the postseason experience.
“They gave me a lot more in that second set. Very proud in that second set, proud of their program, proud of each other. Heck of a season. I’m very, very proud of my kids how we did battle back. And you know what, a couple balls bounce that way and a couple balls bounce this way we win that second set. I definitely liked our chances in that third set.”
The first game set the tone for the night as the powerful Morris team dominated from the start, holding leads of 8-3, 13-6 and 19-9 on the way to victory.
With a student body touting the Morris’ “block party,” the Redskins’ hitting game was even more overwhelming led by 6-foot-1 Abby Baker (9 kills), 6-0 Kayln Korte (10 kills, 3 blocks) and 5-10 JoAnna Nowicki (6 kills).
“They’re tall and athletic. I mean, what do you do?” Puck said. “We’re 5-8, they’re 6-foot. If we execute a little more in our serve receive packages and our serving. We were a little gun shy. I think kids we’re a little scared. If we would have come out like we did last week, we battle and we win. It’s that simple.
“I think the week layoff hurt us a little bit. But we had great practices. I think I got these kids sped up to where we can compete with the bigger, physical taller teams, but we just didn’t execute in the normal things we do in day to day things.”
The Tigresses started to do things much better in the second set. They gained a 11-10 lead on a kill by Abby Jaques. Hailey Schultz hit twice off Morris blocks to gain a 13-12 lead and struck again to tie the game at 14.
Rachel Frank served up an ace and PHS benefitted from a line judge’s call to close within 18-17. Two miscommunication errors by Morris enabled the Tigresses to tie the game at 20 and an Ashley Farraher sideout kill forced a tie at 21.
Nowicki served up the final three points, killing the first herself and getting an emphatic kill from Baker on the third.
“As a total package, we [had] probably one of the best matches we’ve played. It was great,” Morris coach Jackie Litwiller said. “That’s what we’ve been working up to, so I hope we continue.”
The regional marked the second postseason exit in 3A for Princeton with no change in sight. Puck said he won’t use that as an excuse.
“This school’s twice our size, but if we compete we win,” he said. “I’ll never blame ... I’m not happy (with it), don’t get me wrong. I’s unfortunate for these seniors they never got a taste of a good postseason run. And I miss a good postseason run.”
Senior Becca Hult led the Tigresses with seven kills and two blocks in her final match in the Princeton blues. Schultz added five kills.
Morris will face top-seeded LaSalle-Peru (28-3) for the regional championship at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Lady Cavs were forced to three sets by an inspired Mendota team 25-15, 21-25, 25-8. L-P has defeated Morris twice this season.
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