By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ELWOOD — It didn't take the Elwood volleyball team long Tuesday night to separate itself from Taylor in the first round of the Class 2A sectional at Alexandria.
The Panthers (18-19) used big runs early in each set to fuel a 25-10, 25-4, 25-8 victory and set up a fourth matchup Saturday against sixth-ranked Madison-Grant.
"We had a discussion about that yesterday," Elwood coach Reva Short said of the possibility of meeting the Argylls yet again this season. "Actually, I didn't bring it up. A couple of the seniors did. They said, 'If we're gonna be over there Saturday, let's make it worth it and let's win.' Maybe the gears are starting to turn there."
The Panthers played Madison-Grant twice in the Madison County tournament and then again during the regular season as Central Indiana Conference rivals. The Argylls won all three meetings, but Elwood improved in each match.
On Tuesday's sectional opener, the Panthers' toughest opponent was the enemy within.
Taylor simply did not have the talent to match up with Elwood, and the Panthers had to fight to maintain their focus and get something worthwhile out of the contest.
Elwood sprinted to a 7-1 lead in the first set before a brief run by the Titans cut the deficit to 8-4. The Panthers answered with nine straight points off the serve of Katelyn Leisure and never looked back.
Service aces played a big role in the match. Taylor Noone led Elwood with eight, and Leisure nearly matched her with six. The Panthers racked up 19 aces overall as a team.
Short said she constantly was reminding her players not to change their style of play.
"You still have to do everything as quick as you normally do it," she said. "You still have to do all the little things you normally do in practice or in a game."
Elwood did everything right to start the second set, bursting out to a 9-0 lead before the Titans called timeout.
Taylor battled back to 11-3 before Leisure started a 13-0 run on her serve to put the Panthers in firm control of the match.
The momentum carried into the third set, with Elwood scoring the first seven points before the Titans made their final run.
Taylor pulled as close as 12-6, but Tenasha Stevens served eight straight Panthers points to all but put the match away.
Stephens and Noone led the Panthers with seven kills each. Leisure and Kelsey Hughes added four kills apiece, and Holly Short and McKenzie Wilson finished with three kills and two blocks each. Short also had a pair of aces.
Elwood will meet Madison-Grant in the first semifinal Saturday at 11 a.m. The second semifinal will pit the winners of Thursday's matches between Tipton and Eastern at 6 p.m. and fifth-ranked Alexandria and Sheridan around 8 p.m.
The Panthers' familiarity with the Argylls (23-9) could be a bonus. They know where Madison-Grant star Jessica Hull likes to hit and how she'll likely attack their defense.
But the Argylls, of course, have just as much info on Elwood.
"We know what they've got," Short said. "Now it's up to us in practice to get ready for that."