by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley volleyball team got a stiff test in its season opener against perennial powerhouse Pleasant Hill.
The Eagles were facing a Chicks team that has made it to the state final four six times in the past 10 years. They passed the early test with a strong team effort and overcame a deficit in a 25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 25-19, 15-9 victory in their season opener at home.
The Eagles were down two sets to one and gutted out wins in the fourth and fifth games to get the victory. Junior right side hitter Adelyn Bybee boosted the team with her smashing kills, senior middle hitter Kellie Overturf made life difficult for Pleasant Hill hitters with her blocking at the net and freshman outside hitter Kayla Gallagher provided a huge spark in the fifth set to help propel the Eagles to a win.
“It was all attitude,” Grain Valley head coach Tori Squiers said. “Whenever we want to play together, we come together and show up. We were a little down after the first set, but being able to come back said a lot and shows our potential for the year.”
In the final set, Gallagher got two kills at the beginning to help the Eagles take a 7-2 lead, which included two kills and an ace from Overturf. The Chicks wouldn’t get any closer than four points the rest of the way as Grain Valley completed the comeback as Bybee found some space in the middle of the Pleasant Hill defense to deposit a kill for the win.
“She’s amazing,” Overturf said of Gallagher. “She’s a freshman and you have to be happy for her being a part of the team. I never saw her get down throughout this game. She was always positive. If she made a mistake, she said, ‘Sorry guys. I will make it up.’ And she did.”
Bybee, who is the tallest player on the team, used her height to her advantage. Some passes that seemed unreachable, she was able to leap up and get a solid hit on it, even when she was fading out of bounds. She was the primary source for offense for Grain Valley.
The comeback wasn’t easy for the Eagles. They fought back from a 22-17 deficit by going on a 8-2 run late in the first set that was powered by the serves from junior setter Dru Iles, who had three aces during that stretch. The Chicks, however, scored the final three points to take the first game.
Grain Valley led 17-10 midway through the second game, but Pleasant Hill went on a 6-0 spurt to make it close. Bybee helped her team stave off the Chicks’ comeback with six kills in the set including a perfectly-placed ball inside the back right corner to tie the match at one set apiece.
“She just puts the ball away,” Squiers said of Bybee. “They run a lot of quicks so she doesn’t have a block there. She is a huge threat for our team.”
The Eagles jumped out to a 5-1 advantage in the third game, but Pleasant Hill came back to take a 17-11 lead. Some Chicks miscues allowed Grain Valley to slowly chip away and cut Pleasant Hill’s lead to 24-23, but a kill inside the right sideline for sophomore Aby Widhalm gave her team a 2-1 lead.
Trailing 7-5 in the fourth set, Overturf had a pair of clever tips that ended up as kills and a pair of key blocks to help Grain Valley go up 21-11. Pleasant Hill got as close as three points, but a few moments later, sophomore Allison Koepkey ended the game with a tap inside the back line to tie it at 2 and set up the winning fifth set.
“Kelly is a beast on the front row,” Squires said. “She is a huge threat for our team. As long as she is up front, she is probably getting a touch on the ball. She’s also a huge offensive threat.”
Added Bybee: “I love blocking with (Overturf) at the net. Once we get our mjo going there, we are unstoppable.”
Even after a big win to start the season, the Eagles aren’t completely satisfied.
“We have room to grow as individuals and teammates,” Bybee said. “I think we are going to have a pretty good season.”