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Trojans sweep past Knights in three sets

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New Castle senior Melani Shaffmaster (17) records one of her infamous unreturnable tips against the defense of visiting Fort Wayne Bishop Luers during Saturday afternoon’s volleyball match in the Fieldhouse. Shaffmaster recorded nine kills, four service aces, 24 assists, three digs, and a block in the host Trojans’ three-set sweep over the Knights.
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New Castle’s Laila Smith (8) pounds down a kill against the defense of sophomores Hannah Sweeney (9) and Anna Parent (11) of visiting Fort Wayne Bishop Luers during Saturday afternoon’s volleyball match in the Fieldhouse. Smith had seven kills and two blocks in the host Trojans’ three-set sweep over the Knights.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

The Class 4A  No. 1 New Castle High School varsity volleyball team had a Saturday matinee match with visiting Fort Wayne Bishop Luers in the Fieldhouse and, as usual, didn't need much time to subdue the Knights, sweeping past them in straight sets 25-13, 25-6, 25-15.

The Trojans improved to 26-1 for the season while Luers slipped to 11-14.

"We try to limit our errors to five or fewer in each set," New Castle Coach Sarah Roush said afterward. "We had seven in the first set and fewer than five in the second. We have to come ready to play every time because we know other teams will give us their best shot."

New Castle never trailed in the first set, getting out to a 3-0 lead on a Nicole Wilkinson block, a Melani Shaffmaster service ace, and a Mabrey Shaffmaster kill.

With the Trojans ahead 5-1, the Knights scored three straight points on a pair of New Castle hitting errors and a Kayla Gumbel kill. Wilkinson and Luers' Taylor Bransfield exchanged kills, and the hosts still led by only a point at 6-5.

But a ball hit into the net by the visitors, a Laila Smith kill, and back-to-back service aces by Mabrey Shaffmaster staked the Trojans to a 10-5 advantage and that lead never dropped below four points the rest of the set.

New Castle got its first double-digit advantage at 18-8 on a Melani Shaffmaster ace, and the Trojans won set one after 15 minutes on a Mabrey Shaffmaster kill.

The hosts weren't threatened at all in the second set, as they opened with a pair of Mabrey Shaffmaster kills and a ball hit into the net by the Knights for a 3-0 lead.

Luers got its first point on a New Castle ball served into the net, but the Trojans scored the next eight points for an 11-1 advantage. In that flurry for the hosts, Zoe Conway had four service aces, Smith and plus Melani and Mabrey Shaffmaster had a kill apiece, and the Knights hit the ball into the net for the other point.

"We just try to focus on what we do, limit our errors, and control what we can control on the court," Conway said after the match. "Delta always plays us with spunk and they have a couple good hitters. We're confident going into the final week and the tournament, but realize we can have one bad match and we're out. I think that keeps us focused."

New Castle continued to build its lead from there and an Emily Scott kill made it set point at 24-5. A kill by Luers' Avery Arnold briefly delayed the hosts from clinching the set, but the Trojans won set two after 14 minutes on a ball served long by the Knights.

New Castle never trailed in the third set either, getting leads of 2-0 and 6-1. Among the host's first six points were service aces by Melani Shaffmaster and Bailey Cox, and kills by Mabrey Shaffmaster and Wilkinson.

Luers crept back to within 8-5 after a Bransfield kill and Madison Parsenow service ace, but the Trojans got two tips and a kill from Melani Shaffmaster, a Mabrey Shaffmaster ace, a Smith kill, and a ball hit into the net by the visitors for seven straight points and a 14-5 advantage.

A Melani Shaffmaster block gave New Castle a double-digit lead at 16-6 and the hosts reached set point at 24-10 on a net violation by the Knights.

But Luers didn't want to go back north to Fort Wayne just yet as it scored five straight points on a Lexi Dippold kill, two aces from Meredith Zay, a Bransfield tip, and a Trojan hitting miscue to pull to within 24-15.

However, a Wilkinson kill ended set three after 16 minutes, giving New Castle the match three sets to none.

"We've had a really good season thus far," Mabrey Shaffmaster said afterward, "but we need to control our errors and not beat ourselves. If we do that, we'll be fine."

The Trojans had 37 kills in the match, led by Mabrey Shaffmaster with 13, Melani Shaffmaster had nine, Smith seven, Wilkinson five, Cox two, and Scott one. New Castle's 16 service aces were recorded by Mabrey Shaffmaster with five, Melani Shaffmaster and Conway four apiece, and Addie Bunner and Samantha Ward one each. Smith had two blocks, and Mabrey Shaffmaster, Melani Shaffmaster, Bunner, and Wilkinson had one apiece.

The Trojans had 19 digs, led by Mabrey Shaffmaster with six, Cox four, Melani Shaffmaster and Ward three each, Conway two, and Eliza Madden one. Melani Shaffmaster had 24 of New Castle's 28 assists, Madden had three, and Mabrey Shaffmaster one.

The junior varsity match was closer and the Trojans won won it in three sets 25-14, 24-25, 15-11. In the third set, New Castle's Ellen Bergum had back-to-back kills to reach set point, and Payton Plank ended it with a service ace.

The Trojans play at Delta tonight in hopes of clinching an outright Hoosier Heritage Conference title, and host Hagerstown Wednesday for Senior Night.