With only two matches instead of the usual three at its home invitational, Norwalk dropped a tough match to Mantua Crestwood, 20-25, 25-15, 25-22. But the hosts bounced back against Willard in a two-game sweep (25-17, 25-23) over the Crimson Flashes.
"We came out and played a better match against Willard," Kipp said. "We are still working through some rotations, and it is the beginning of the season. We identified some things to work on, but overall, I am happy with how my girls played."
Against Willard, Norwalk (3-3) won four straight points to take a 7-4 lead in Game 1. They maintained a comfortable lead and extended it midway through the game.
Kills from Olivia Ward and Carly Bilton helped the margin extend to 17-10 as Willard called timeout.
The Flashes (4-4) drew within five points on a block by Cassidy Crawford, but never any closer. Delaney Thomas had two kills and Elyse Balduff put one down to give Norwalk the opening game.
In Game 2, Norwalk raced out to an 18-7 lead before holding on for the close win.
Willard was paced by Crawford's 10 kills. Mckenna Stephens added nine kills and three aces, while Alyse Cok added seven kills. Chloe Weaver finished with 23 assists and Haylie Hamons had nine digs.
"Our match against Norwalk was extremely disappointing because we lacked any sort of consistent effort," Willard coach Ashley Bond said. "As a coach, it is obvious that I need to do a better job of preparing our team."
Thomas led Norwalk with 11 kills, while Ward had 23 assists to go with five kills. Bilton also had five kills, Claire Kelley had nine digs and four kills; and Haleigh Skinner contributed 11 digs.
Against Crestwood — which like Willard, also won a district title in 2018 — Norwalk lost the first four points of the match before regrouping. Norwalk went on a 8-1 run and never trailed the rest of the game. Bilton had a pair of kills late in the game to give her team an early lead.
"We played really well in the first game," Kipp said. "The communication just fell by the wayside and when you are six individuals on the floor, you are going to struggle to play in a team sport."
The momentum was not maintained though. The Red Devils sprinted out to a 6-2 lead in Game 2 as Kipp called timeout. Crestwood pushed the lead to 10-6, but a block by Thomas helped Norwalk get within a point.
Crestwood again responded. Tis time it was with five straight points, capped on consecutive errors by Norwalk for a 15-9 lead. Norwalk battled back and was within 20-16, but the Red Devils won the last five points of the game to tie the match.
"Defensively, Crestwood was really tough," Kipp said. "We struggled to find the floor as hitters."
Game 3 was a battle of runs as each team swung the momentum their way on different occasions. Norwalk was ahead 5-3 when Crestwood ran off five straight points. That was answered by five consecutive points by Norwalk.
Later, the Red Devils scored five straight points for a 14-11 advantage — a lead that never squandered. Back-to-back kills by Elana Faldowski kept Crestwood ahead, 19-15. Norwalk got within two points on three different occasions, but a kill from Faldowski gave the Red Devils the win.
"We knew they were tough defensively," Kipp said. "We need to be smart with where we hit the ball. Crestwood was able to catch us out of position quite a few times."
Against Crestwood, Bilton had 11 kills while Kelley tallied 11 digs and six kills. Thomas added six blocks and five kills while Ward added 25 assists and 13 digs.
"We have to work on our team play," Kipp said. "We have moments where we are six individuals on the floor and we have to work on playing together as a team."
Willard's best match of the day came against Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. Ultimately, the Lions came away with a 25-13, 24-26, 25-13 victory.
"They came out strong from the beginning," Bond said. "If our serve receive is not there, we can't do much. They were serving us short and we were not making adjustments."
NDCL jumped on the Flashes in the first game behind its plethora of top-notch hitters. Freshman Caroline Jurevicius blasted kills at every angle, helping the Lions jump put to a 9-3 lead that blossomed to 16-5 when NDCL won seven straight points.
Willard drew as close as 17-10, but a kill by Jurevicius and an ace from the Lions gave them the early lead.
"(Starting slow) seems like that has been our problem all year," Bond said. "I am not sure why. I will have to figure out something to adjust because it get a frustrating to watch over and over."
The Flashes played better in Game 2, leading 13-11 at one point before NDCL responded with a 10-3 run for a 21-16 lead. Willard did not back down. A block and kill by Cok, as well as two errors by NDCL tied the game at 22. It was also tied at 23 and 24 before a block by Stephens was followed by a Lions error to tie the match.
"We easily could have pulled it out," Bond said. "We didn't and we came out and played well in Game 2. It did not matter who was on the court for them."
NDCL got back to the way it played in the first game to finish the match. This time, the early run was 10-3, putting separation between themselves and the Flashes.
Willard never had a run in it during Game 3. The teams played almost even the rest of the game. Bond noted the play of Jurevicius stood out to her.
"She just jumps so high," Bond said. "You really just pray she hits it out of bounds. For being only a freshman, that is really impressive."
Crawford tallied eight kills while Stephens added seven kills. Weaver recorded 19 assists while Hamons had 10 digs and Maraya Polachek had nine digs.
"They play in a tough league," Bond said. "They play in the same league as Holy Name. We knew they were going to be good."
The Flashes opened the day with a 25-18, 25-19 loss to Tiffin Calvert — the defending Division IV state champions.
"Calvert has a lot of hitters and they have a lot of weapons," Bond said. "We knew they were a tough team. We were just hoping we would show up and be ready to play."
The Senecas (7-1) never trailed in the match, using an array of hitters to counter anything Willard tried to do.
Calvert jumped out to a 8-2 lead in Game 1.
"We looked like we were still laying in bed for the first 10 points," Bond said. "When we came back and came ready to play, we played with them."
In Game 2, the Senecas ran out to a 7-2 lead, never allowing the Flashes to get in a rhythm or comfortably into the game.
"Willard is just a good program all-around," Calvert coach Lori Rombach said. "Ashley does a great job over there. They are just explosive and if they get momentum, they can be a completely different team."
Crawford had seven kills while Stephens recorded five kills and five digs. Weaver finished with 14 assists, five digs, and four kills while Polachek tallied 10 digs.
"The serve receive was off," Bond said. "We never got a lot of good swings. When we have good serve receive, we usually put it down."