Knights start playoffs strong

Published 9:58 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting senior middle hitter Haley Johnson back in the lineup is just what the Alden-Conger volleyball team needed.

The No. 7 seed Knights (12-10-5) won their fourth consecutive match Monday with a 25-13, 21-25, 25-15, 25-10 victory over No. 10 seed Medford in the first round of the Section 1A West Subsection playoffs.

Johnson missed a portion of the season when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, but returned to the lineup Oct. 4 when she was fitted with a brace. Her presence in the lineup has an effect on the team, one that head coach Melissa Wasmoen can’t explain precisely, but one that she has noticed.

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“The girls play different when she’s in there,” Wasmoen said. “I don’t know how to explain that but they just do. It’s just a chemistry, it’s just something when she’s in there. She struggled a little bit, but she always comes across when we need her for a big serve, kill or a dig.”

Alden-Conger is unbeaten in its last seven matches with Johnson in the lineup.

Johnson was one of three Knight players who had 12 kills in the match. Seniors Krista Mathiason and Nadean Krueger also had 12 kills. Mathiason added 30 digs and Jessie Bolinger had 22 digs. Megan Miller had 37 assists for Alden-Conger.

“Coming back I can tell almost everyone plays at a different level,” Johnson said. “It seems like when I was out I always heard them say, ‘I wish you were there.’ Even my coach says my team plays to a different level.”

She doesn’t have the same mobility, but it’s her presence on the court that is doing more for the team lately.

“It’s definitely different,” Johnson said. “I’ve had to change a few things, like my approach — I have to think a lot about it before I do it and my passing is not as fast. It’s still good to be back. I’m happy to be back.”

Johnson came up with some big plays in the third game after the Knights had dropped game two to the Tigers, ending the game with a kill.

Her absence during the middle of the season also had an impact on the team as it learned to play without her and reserves stepped in at various roles. Having a variety of players evolve throughout the season has benefited Alden-Conger as well.

“I think after playing together, we adjusted without Haley,” Wasmoen said. “Then we readjusted … whoever is around them they can just play with and that’s a positive for us.”

The Knights will face No. 2 seed Hayfield Thursday in Hayfield.

“We going to go out and give it our all,” Wasmoen said. “We’re the lower seed, but we are ready. The girls want it and that’s the main thing.”