Red Storm topples CVAC’s last unbeaten team

Saranac Lake’s Meagan O’Brien (8) and Danielle Gonyea attempt to block a shot by Peru’s Marie Higgins during Tuesday’s match in the Red Storm gym. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake volleyball team didn’t get off to a very good start when it hosted unbeaten Peru on Tuesday, but once the Red Storm got rolling, they couldn’t be stopped.

Backed by an always fired up home crowd, Saranac Lake handed Peru its first loss of the season by a 3-1 score. After falling 25-11 in the opening game, the Red Storm took the next three 25-18, 25-21 and 26-24 in an exciting Champlain Valley Athletic Conference showdown.

With Sydney Andronica leading the defense and Meagan O’Brien pacing the offense with a great night serving, Saranac Lake improved to 7-3 in the league. Peru still holds the top spot in the CVAC after falling to 10-1.

After watching his Red Storm get overwhelmed in the opening game, coach Mike Navarra changed strategies in an effort to take Peru’s powerful hitter Marie Higgins out of her game. Higgins, a junior, finished with a match-high 17 kills, but her impact dwindled as the contest progressed.

“We knew if we could stop her, make her a little more inconsistent, we would have a fighting chance,” Navarra said. “I do think they helped us out because they missed a lot of serves and we started getting ours in as the pressure started to build, as the match went on. But we started missing some serves as well. Overall we did find a few gaps in their defense.”

Sydney Andronica of Saranac Lake leaps while celebrating a key point with teammate Meagan O’Brien while Red Storm assistant coach Susan Waters cheers from the sideline. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The Red Storm was never really in the opening game, but the next three turned out to be tight, back-and-forth battles. The fourth game was as tense as it gets as both teams traded leads from start to finish. Saranac Lake stayed on top until the Indians went on a four-point run to grab an 18-15 lead, and they held the advantage by running the score to 21-17. The Red Storm, however rallied to tie with four points in a row, and then after the score became deadlocked again at 24-24, the hosts grabbed the final two points to clinch the victory.

Andronica was simply amazing on defense and finished with 27 digs. O’Brien also sparkled brightly with her serving and finished with 18 points. Navarra said both girls played key roles in the victory but added his team’s ability to pass was a key factor down the stretch.

“As a team we worked well together,” Navarra said. “Sydney kept us in the game tonight and our serving just got better and better as the night went on. Meagan O’Brien really stood out with her serves. Tonight she was on fire. It was great. It was awesome.”

With the win, Saranac Lake avenged a four-set loss to the Indians early in the season, and both Navarra and Peru head coach Mary Anne Lake may have seen the Red Storm victory coming before the match.

“Tonight before the game I told the girls ‘We’re not worried about them. They’re worried about us,'” Navarra said. “They know how we can play.”

Saranac Lake's players, along with coach Mike Navarra, celebrate Tuesday's victory over previously unbeaten Peru. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

When the two coaches met up after the match, Lake told Navarra that she told her players to be wary of coming into Saranac Lake to take on the Red Storm.

“It was intense. It’s always intense up here. The home crowd is always behind the team and the girls sometimes have trouble overcoming the noise level and things along those lines,” Lake said. “Quite frankly, that aside, Saranac Lake played a great game. Those girls hustled, they did what they needed to do. They were a strong, strong opponent. They never gave up. They just put down balls coming back at us. That was the big thing. Both teams are really persistent and wanted to be there.”

Lake agreed with Navarra that the Indians didn’t have one of their best serving performances and said that’s one aspect of their game they will be concentrating on prior to their next match, which will be on Monday against Lake Placid.

“I think there are some things we’re taking back to the gym that we will be working on,” Lake said. “We’re usually a strong serving team and tonight they were not where they needed to be. We put a few under the net, we put a few out.”

Red Storm captain Marissa Gibbs said her team never panicked after dropping the first game by double digits.

“We know that one set does not determine the whole game,” Gibbs said. “We just learned from it. We learned that this is what they’re going to do, and what’s not working for us. We just came back stronger. We started talking and playing our game.

“We didn’t let the fact that they were undefeated stop us,” Gibbs added. “We know how to play volleyball, obviously. With our crowd, with our gym, we knew how to take them down and that’s what we did. We started passing the ball to the setters and the hitters starting hitting them.”

Saranac Lake returns to action on Thursday, traveling to face rival Lake Placid with the match slated to start at 6 p.m.

Saranac Lake 3, Peru 1

11-25, 25-18, 25-21, 26-24

Peru — Higgins 11 points, 1 ace, 17 kills, 10 digs; Prescott 3 points, 3 aces, 3 assists, 13 digs; Bousquet 4 points, 2 kills, 23 assists; Rodriguez 1 block; Hayes 2 kills, 1 dig; Martin 7 points, 2 aces, 8 kills, 3 digs; Timmons 2 points, 1 assist, 9 digs; Clary 3 points, 2 aces, 2 assists, 1 dig.

Saranac Lake — Andronica 5 points, 2 kills, 1 assist, 27 digs; Gonyea 9 points, 2 aces, 4 kills, 1 block; Glover 2 kills, 2 digs; Gibbs 1 point, 5 kills, 13 digs; O’Brien 18 points, 3 aces, 1 kill, 5 assists, 4 digs; K. Gay 7 points, 1 kill, 4 assists, 6 digs; M. Gay 9 points, 2 aces, 1 kill, 2 digs; Leeret 4 points, 1 kill, 2 digs.