ELDRIDGE — The North Scott girls volleyball team is still in the hunt for the Mississippi Athletic Conference title.
But Davenport Central gave the Lancers a reminder that they will have to fight for it every single night.
Although the Lancers swept the Blue Devils on Tuesday night in conference action, the Blue Devils made the third-ranked team in Class 4A earn every bit of a 25-21, 25-16, 25-23 victory.
In the end, big plays from Lancers veteran hitters Emma Powell and Kendall McNaull were too much for Central to pull off the upset. Powell had 19 kills and McNaull added 12 kills and three blocks for the winners. And it seemed every time the Lancers (19-4, 4-1 MAC) needed a big point when the Blue Devils (5-12, 2-3) crept within a few points it came from the senior front-line players.
"Those two step up in key moments all the time," Lancers coach Taryn VanEarwage said of McNaull and Powell. "That shows their senior leadership and the girls out there just trust them to make the those plays in big moments."
McNaull said the Lancers were aware of what the Blue Devils could do after Central did take a set off of North Scott when the teams met last Saturday at a tournament in Dubuque. North Scott did eventually win that match.
"I just feel like Central is really scrappy and they don't give up on any plays," McNaull said. "We really did know what they were capable of but we did have that chip on our shoulder to come out and get the win."
Although McNaull, Powell and teammates Ella McLaughlin and Grace Graham had strong nights at the net, the Blue Devils dug the Lancers fairly well. Lindsey Smith was all over the court for the visitors and finished with a match-high 20 digs. Lilly Campbell (11 digs) and Miya Wilkins (10 digs) also had solid matches for the Blue Devils defensively.
McNaull thought the difference was the four-year experience that her and Powell were able to bring in key moments.
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"Central is a good team but Emma and I have been playing together for a long time," McNaull said. "I feel like her and I know the urgency of the situation and know how to play in those moments. We know that when it is close at the end of the game, you just have to do it."
The seniors did help North Scott snag the first set as Central only trailed 22-21. But Powell put down a big kill and McNaull added a solo block to make it 24-21. A Blue Devils' hitting error put the hosts up early.
McNaull and Powell kept it up in the second set as each finished with four kills. But it was the play of Grace Graham that gave the Lancers the breathing room they needed. Only up 10-8, Graham put down a pair of kills and added a block to aid the solid serving of Sam Lee. Lee had two of her three aces during a key run that put North Scott in control with a 16-9 lead that the Blue Devils could not overcome.
McLaughlin came up big for the hosts in the final set with five of her seven kills coming in the last set. She had several tip-kills to finish plays off as North Scott led most of the set. But a late run by the Blue Devils, thanks to kills from Wilkins, Campbell and sophomore Morgan Barker actually put the visitors up 20-19. But McNaull and Powell answered the bell again as each had a kill and McNaull added a block as the Lancers re-gained control at 24-21. Fittingly, McNaull finished off the match with a thunderous kill.
"I think we mentally stayed checked in when we needed to," VanEarwage said. "Central put us in some tough positions but we made the plays when we had to. We just had to stay strong when (Central) made their pushes."
Sam Lee finished with 20 assists while Lauren Hanssen chipped in 11 assists. McLaughlin had 10 digs while Powell finished with nine digs. Paige Blaskovich (eight digs) and Peyton Wenck (seven digs) made key defensive contributions for the winners.
Barker had nine kills for the Blue Devils while Wilkins finished with eight kills. Lexi Huntley had 14 assists and three aces while Martha Fey had five assists. Campbell added two blocks and also had three aces.
Central coach Janelle Hester said she was proud of her team's effort and thought it was one of the best matches the team has played all season.
"This says a lot about our girls, they are resilient, they are confident and they are go-getters," Hester said. "We made some adjustments in the second and third set but, at the end of the day, the girls did exactly what we needed to do. This match definitely will set the tone for the rest of the season."