LAGRANGE — If senior Alexis Lehmkuhl and junior Jalen Gibbs play all year like they did Tuesday night at Keystone, Wellington’s volleyball team will be a force to be reckoned with.
The two 6-footers combined for 26 block-kills in leading the Dukes to a 25-27, 31-29, 20-25, 25-20, 15-9 victory over the Wildcats in Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division play. Gibbs had 16 blocks and Lehmkuhl 10 in leading the way.
“The blocks really help to get our energy up,” said Gibbs, who overcame an upset stomach midway through the match and ended up with 18 kills. “We work vigorously every day in practice. We take about 30 minutes just working on our net work.”
“We work on a drill where you throw the ball up at the net and you have to block it or spike it,” Lehmkuhl said. “It helps us a lot.”
“It was just a will to win,” Wellington coach John Fell said. “That’s what it came down to. That’s the best we’ve played all year.”
Fans certainly got their money’s worth. Wellington won Games 2, 4 and 5 while Keystone took Games 1 and 3. The largest lead either team had all night was 19-10 by the Wildcats in Game 3.
“It burns,” Keystone coach Kristin Walsh said. “They ate us up (at the net). We tried to move the ball but they were there. It was tough.”
“Everyone gave all their hard work and effort,” said Lehmkuhl, who finished with 19 kills. “It was a hard match to fight through. It wasn’t easy.”
Both teams are in the thick of the conference race and almost every team has a shot at the championship. The Dukes improved to 6-5 overall and 6-2 in the PAC with the win. Keystone is a step behind at 6-4 and 5-3.
The match was tense and well played. Both teams kept the ball alive with great defense. Keystone relied on its back court while Wellington was able to control the net. Senior Jeanenne Miller had 31 digs for the Wildcats.
Sophomore Taylor Whitney led Keystone with 16 kills, one block and one block assist. Senior Ashely Elliott had 15 kills while sophomore Taylor Sackett finished with nine. Sackett had seven aces as the Wildcats totaled 19 for the match.
Fell couldn’t say enough about his two big hitters — Lehmkuhl and Gibbs — who played well in tandem Tuesday, setting each other up for kills while both playing superbly at the net.
“It works out that way,” Lehmkuhl said. “When she’s in the back row setting and I’m in the front row. It switches when I’m in the back row. This was probably our best game.”
“Yes, definitely this is the best game we’ve ever played,” Gibbs said.
“They are super,” Fell said. “They are very good. They’ve been that way all year. We rely on them a lot to block at the net — we really do. We count on them because defensively we still have a little bit of work to do in the back row. We have to stop as many balls as we can at the net.”
Wellington played without senior Erin Frenk, still out with an ankle injury suffered last week against Firelands. Frenk is another 6-foot outside hitter. Her freshman sister Karlie had three aces.
Both teams will play crossover PAC games Thursday — Wellington is at Lutheran West while Keystone plays at Fairview.
Wellington 25-31-20-25-15, Keystone 27-29-25-20-9
KILLS: (W) Alexis Lehmkuhl 19, (K) Taylor Whitney 16.
DIGS: (K) Jeanenne Miller 31.
BLOCKS: (W) Jalen Gibbs 16, (K) Whitney 2
ASSISTS: (W) Lehmkuhl 16, (K) McKenna Saterlee 43.
ACES: (W) Karlie Frenk 3, (K) Taylor Sackett 7.