By TIM CLEVELAND
What would happen if one of Trumbull County’s best volleyball teams played one of its struggling programs? That question was answered Tuesday night in a Division II sectional semifinal between Hubbard and Niles, and the result wasn’t pretty.
The Eagles showed off every aspect of their game and decimated the Red Dragons, 25-2, 25-6, 25-0.
“We’ve been talking about being able to serve tough and being very consistent on the serves,” Hubbard coach Jeremy Porter said. “If you don’t put pressure on them with the serve, your percentages of getting a point are really, really low. We did a great job in that third game coming out and seeing that 24, 25 in a row, I’ve been around a long time and never saw anything like that.”
With two games already in hand, Hubbard won the first point of Game 3 on Niles’ serve. Senior Kelly Matanin took over the serve for the Eagles and proceeded to win the next 24 points. During that stretch, she mixed in eight aces.
“I work on it (serving) a lot,” Matanin said. When asked if her arm got tired with all the serves, she said, “Kind of, but I like serving so it’s OK.”
Overall, Matanin had 29 points, 10 aces and 19 assists to lead Hubbard.
Niles coach Susanne Neal was asked what expectations she had for her team heading into the match.
“Just play with some heart,” she said. “They’ve struggled, obviously, with the record but I tell them every game, they just keep coming at it; they don’t quit. It doesn’t matter if they’re getting beaten 25-0, they don’t quit, which is awesome about these girls.”
Hubbard (16-7) had another big scoring stretch in Game 1. Leading 9-2, Kiana Martinez served out the final 16 points of the game and finished with seven aces.
Matanin, Leah McConnell and KayLyn Garrett are the three Hubbard seniors making their final postseason appearances. Garrett and Matanin said they’re confident the Eagles can make a deep tournament run.
“I feel like we’re getting better,” Garrett said. “We’re practicing really hard and every game is an opportunity. We’ve got to play our best.”
“I think we’re getting better each and every practice,” Matanin said. “I’m really excited to see what we can do.”
Porter added that the fact Hubbard’s players are close friends helps the team’s success on the court.
“We have such a good group of seniors; they do a very good job of being leaders and keep the team focused,” he said. “The coaches don’t have to say too much.
“I think this is a group of girls that plays very, very well together. They hang out together during school, they hang out together off the court. They’re a really tight group of friends. I think that really shows when we get on the court; our togetherness and our desire to win.”
Niles finished 0-21.