Princeton Regional finals: Orion def. Princeton 25-9, 25-11
PRINCETON — Early in both sets Thursday, the No. 5-seeded Princeton volleyball team managed to put together runs against No. 1 Orion.
However, the Tigresses couldn’t sustain them against the high-powered Lady Chargers. Orion closed both sets with big surges to beat Princeton 25-9, 25-11 in the Class 2A Princeton Regional championship.
“We played our tails off,” PHS coach Andy Puck said. “We were outmatched in pretty much every way on the floor tonight. It was seniors versus sophomores.
“I was extremely proud of how my kids played. We don’t face a team that’s that aggressive. We just couldn’t put a ball away. We couldn’t side out. That’s all due to their defense and their transition game. They had an answer for everything we did,” Puck said.
“That’s a testament to good coaching and good players, but we still kept battling. I’m really proud of how we kept fighting until the end.”
The Tigresses fell behind 10-4 in the first set, but after a timeout put together a 4-1 run that featured two kills from senior Kenzie Coleman, a kill from Gracie Ross and a block by Maya Gartin to pull within three at 11-8.
However, a kill by Mackenzie Grafton stopped Princeton’s run and gave the serve to Kati Kratzberg, who rattled off eight straight points during a 14-1 closing run.
The second set played out in similar fashion as a four-point run by Princeton’s Taylor Wetsel tied the set at 8-8 before consecutive PHS errors and back-to-back aces by Ashley Awbrey started a 17-3 surge to clinch Orion’s eighth straight regional title.
“I think we were extremely aggressive,” Puck said about his team’s early runs. “Then they started climbing back a little bit and got us on our heels. When you can’t side out and put a ball away, it’s defeating. You’re on defense non-stop. Against a high-powered offense like that, it’s almost impossible to stop. That’s due to them. They block well and their back row defense was probably the best we’ve seen this year.”
The Tigresses had trouble handling Orion hitters Grafton and Sarah Jacobsen, who is an Illinois State University recruit.
Grafton put down 12 kills, while Jacobsen slammed down five kills and recorded a block.
“You know they’re coming,” Puck said. “They’re going to get their kills. You just hope you can side out and match them. Postseason volleyball is played above the net, it’s grinding and it’s siding out, and we weren’t able to side out because they play such good defense.”
Katie Bates had nine digs and seven assists to lead the Tigresses, while Abby Peterson recorded 10 digs.
Princeton finishes the season 22-15.
“I’m extremely happy,” Puck said about the season. “This is an extremely young group. We have juniors and sophomores coming. We had six sophomores on the floor in a regional final against probably a state-ranked team. The future is bright.”
Thursday’s match was the final high school match for PHS seniors Coleman, Ross, Olivia Chastain and Anna Robbins.
“My seniors put in four years,” Puck said. “They battled for me for four years and had my back for four years. I can’t thank them enough.”
PHS defeats Mercer County
The Tigresses took full advantage of the home court Tuesday, defeating No. 4 Aledo Mercer County 25-18, 25-22 in the semifinals of the Princeton Regional.
“We gave ourselves chances to win, and this time of year, that’s all that matters,” Puck said.
“I think we were the more aggressive team. We also played good defense and sprawled and picked up some balls and really rallied around each other.”
Peterson led PHS with eight points and seven digs. Senior Kenzie Coleman and sophomore Maya Gartin each hit for five kills and two blocks with senior Anna Robbins (1 block) and sophomore McKenzie Hecht adding for kills each.
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