WEST LIBERTY − The West Liberty volleyball team is hurting without Martha Pace.
Playing its second straight contest without the sophomore middle hitter, the Comets (10-3, 1-2) were swept 25-19, 25-18, 25-15 by No. 2 Tipton (12-2, 4-0) at home Thursday night and dealt back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
"(Pace) injured her hand at the Muscatine tournament (on Sept. 1), and then she came down with some kind of virus and she's been home sick for about a week," West Liberty coach Ruben Galvan said. "... She's one of the top hitters in the state, and we haven't been able to adjust to her not being here.
"I'm pretty proud of how the kids I put in have been able to contribute."
A strength this season for the Comets has been their attack, as Pace leads the entire state with a .604 kill efficiency (minimum 100 attack attempts), and teammate Macy Daufeldt is second at .525.
Tipton coach Amy Calonder said she was unaware Pace would be out of the match and had prepared her team Wednesday to face the solid middle-hitting duo of Pace and Daufeldt.
"We worked on our middle defense (Wednesday) blocking 31s, blocking 6s, blocking 1s, those kinds of things," Calonder said. "So we prepared against middle hitters. ... We planned for the middle attack. We knew that's what they had coming into it."
Entering the night with 8.74 kills per set, the Comets tallied 21 kills in 62 attempts throughout the three sets against Tipton. Daufeldt finished with nine, and Hallie Mueller chipped in seven, while Morgan Peterson had 19 assists.
"We played amazing defense," Calonder said. "We dug up a lot of balls, we had a ton of blocks, we were able to shut them down very early in the match, and then our offense has been strong all season. You don't know which girl we're going to because everybody can hit. We have two really good setters who can set anywhere, so I think that was definitely the key there."
At the net, West Liberty looked out of sorts trying to contest Tipton's hitters, registering just half of a block in the match. West Liberty libero Macy Akers, however, paced the team with 14 digs.
The Tigers, who entered the evening with 12.06 kills per set, the second best mark in Class 3A, were as potent as ever Tuesday night, consistently finding the holes in West Liberty's defense while collecting 35 kills. Sommer Daniel led the way with 15.
"I think we need to learn that Martha's an individual and not the whole team," Galvan said. "We've got to step up and figure out what we can do to get better in her absence."
After facing an unbeaten Wilton squad on Tuesday and a two-loss Tipton team on Thursday, the tough stretch in the Comets' schedule continues Tuesday with a match against an improved Durant team.