HEATH — With versatile skills on the volleyball court, Taliyah Holmes rarely steps off the court.
A short break on Thursday, however, did the Heath senior well. The standout elder helped the Bulldogs to a 25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 25-22 win over visiting Utica in the Licking County League-Cardinal Division game.
“They just needed to take me out, and we needed to change, but I was able to get back into that,” Holmes said. “I was always a kid who was like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I get it now, and that’s part of the game.”
Heath, the last Licking County League side to open their regular season, couldn’t have been closer the first two sets with Utica. The final two points went to the Bulldogs in the first set and the final four to Utica in the second.
After Heath (1-0, 1-0) dominated the third set, Utica (1-2, 1-1) looked set to return the favor in the fourth, but the Bulldogs were unwilling to take any risks in a fifth. Heath rallied from a 17-8 deficit and scored the final five points to close the game
“We were just waiting for this moment, and we knew we had to perform and do it,” Holmes said. “It fueled everything.”
Heath senior Sydney Chapman had four kills and an ace in the opening set. Utica junior Emilee Ellis responded with three kills, but two unforced errors for Utica gave Heath the set.
Three early kills for senior Renae Cunningham helped Heath take a 13-5 lead in the second set, but Utica came back strong. Ellis and senior Abby Buchanan combined for a key block, and junior Emma Kimpel had three late kills, including the final point, which came from the back row.
“The girls played pretty consistently and made great progress from game one through game three,” Utica coach Lisa Ritzer said. “We really only have three girls who played a lot in college. When you graduate seven seniors, you fill in a lot of holes.”
Holmes had two aces in the third set, but second Kyndall Spicer stepped into the spotlight for Heath. She had three key takedowns midway through the set to help the Bulldogs open it up, and senior Hanna Clark got a late tip.
It was second Kinley Kaminsky’s turn in the fourth set. She was killed during the last Bulldogs rally and she teamed up with Spicer on a block to help kill Utica’s will.
“It helps because I don’t have to rely on certain people,” said Holmes, who had 18 assists. Sophomore Ysabel Barcelona added 14. “I always know in my back pocket that they are always there for me.”
Kimpel served three aces as Utica opened that fourth set with six straight points, and senior Carlie Parsons also had back-to-back aces early in the set. This duo combined 10 of Utica’s 14 aces, but the team also made nine errors, on a fine line.
“We’re not a big team, so we have to use what we have,” Ritzer said. “We have to serve aggressively and pick up balls because we’re not going to have a lot of big blocks.”
Parsons totaled seven eliminations, a team high, Kimpel and Ellis adding five each. Ellis and second Alexa Gosnell each had 11 assists and Kimpel had 16 digs.
Heath has his share of tenuous moments, but the Bulldogs could take a deep breath after the end point. Saturday’s trip to the Shaner-Wohrer Memorial in Lancaster will be a first measuring stick.
Spicer had 16 kills and Chapman 14 to lead the offense. Junior Caroline Robertson made 14 digs.
“There was a stretch, which we talked about, we can’t give three or four points in a row. It has to be point by point,” said Heath coach Shela Croom. “It was good to have a first game with a ‘1’ in the win column. We were ready to play.”