Alert Rangers adapt to repress Pats

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Forest Park’s Lydia Lange celebrated a point during Monday night’s scuffle between the Rangers and Heritage Hills at Buechler Arena in Ferdinand. The Rangers toppled the Patriots 25-17, 25-21, 15-25, 25-20 to keep hopes alive for a Pocket Athletic Conference title. Lange compiled a hearty statline with 17 kills, 10 digs and two blocks. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — In evaluating the season to date, there doesn’t seem to be a common thread that has laced all of the Forest Park volleyball team’s matches together. No trademark second-set run, typical first-set hiccup or final-set defensive stand.

No pattern has really presented itself, Ranger coach Jamie Giesler said.

But there are two things that have remained constant.

First, the Rangers knew that without the size of previous years in the front row, they’d have to remain defensively sound all around. And second, if they expected positive results, they’d have to simply work harder than anyone else.

Claire Dilger

Monday’s 25-17, 25-21, 15-25, 25-20 trudge past Pocket Athletic Conference foe Heritage Hills at Buechler Arena in Ferdinand offered firsthand lessons in both sectors, while ultimately aligning the Rangers for two upcoming conference clashes with weighty implications.

“Each (match) is kind of a little bit different. Each night is different,” Giesler said. “We knew coming into this season that we’d have to be a little more defensively sound than what we have in the past.”

Now, the commitment seems to be truly surfacing for the Rangers (10-12, 5-1).

“Last three or four (matches) we’ve played, I’ve seen a tremendous uplift in them all taking responsibility together as being that team out there,” the Ranger coach continued. “They’re hustling a lot more. They’re making more plays. Balls that dropped before, now they’re getting those balls and finishing up the play.”

The idea personified: Lydia Lange. The dynamic frontliner with thunderous spikes has adopted some gutsy defensive mechanisms to boot. Often planted in the middle of the back line Monday, the junior dove for plummeting shots more than a half dozen times, accruing 10 digs in the process.

Sure, elevating at the net remains Lange’s first love, but she’s grown fond of hitting the hardwood as well.

“The front is definitely my favorite. I love putting balls away,” Lange maintained. “But the feeling of just diving and keeping the ball up, too, is fun.”

To Giesler, the junior’s acceptance to undertake both responsibilities is perhaps what speaks loudest.

“We’ve asked her to step up as a leader and she has,” Giesler said of Lange, who belted a team-high 17 kills, more than double any other Ranger.

But perhaps most impressive was the adjustment Lange and her front-line companions Devin Schaefer (seven kills) and Jordan Voges (four aces) made when the Patriots finally gathered some inertia.

As Heritage Hills (6-14, 3-3) began implementing an effective slide play with middle hitter CJ Nance for several swipes on the outside, the Rangers simply acclimated. After Nance laced a pair of her eight kills in the second set, Lange and Schaefer both adjusted to anticipate the maneuver midway through the third set. When the slide came again, both Rangers rose up to stuff the attempt.

“I try to be talking the whole time, and I know the team does a lot,” Lange said in explaining how the adjustment was made. “You have to watch the other team — the moves they’re doing, the little things and just talk to your team.”

While that ability to reshape, revamp and rework when needed became a point of commendation for Forest Park, it remained quite relevant to the Pats as well, Heritage Hills coach Annie Gunselman explained. Not so much as something to be praised, however.

“One of the things we’ve harped on is not being so predictable. It’s great to run some slides, but then we went to the well a few times too often,” Gunselman said. “And we have a tendency, with the stuff that’s working, we just keep going and keep going and the other team’s going to make an adjustment. And then you have to make a counter-adjustment. It’s a chess match all the way through. And we’re not doing much in the way of adjusting to the other team’s adjustments.”

Even so, Gunselman did come away with some positives, particularly from the third set, when the Patriots rattled off 10 consecutive points after the Rangers cut the Patriot lead to 12-11. The streak included a trio of heavy swings from outside hitter Madi Fella, who pasted a team-high 13 kills while continuing to play with a back injury, a heady tip by April Kippenbrock (seven kills, 12 digs) and a blast from sophomore Claire Dilger, whom Gunselman commended for becoming more active in the third set.

Yet the team’s defect remains the difficulty to sustain, Gunselman underlined. The focus is there for one point, absent the next. Nevertheless, the Patriot coach nurtures the notion that all was not lost for her group. It takes just one shot.

“If we can feel good about what we’re doing a night or two, then that could be enough to turn some things around. That’s what we’re still searching for,” Gunselman said. “We need something to get us, one time or two, over that hump. And I think that could make a huge difference for us.”

For Giesler, the triumph pointed to the progression of Chloe Dilger (11 digs), who “is now just getting into her groove” as libero, Giesler said. In addition, Schaefer (seven kills) and Anna Hagedorn (five kills, 12 digs) provided gutsy efforts, Giesler said. Hagedorn has soldiered on despite having bone spurs in both feet. To boot, Adria Giesler distributed well at the net, the coach said, dishing out 28 assists.

If Forest Park wins its remaining PAC bouts with North Posey and Gibson Southern and undefeated Tecumseh stumble along the way, the Rangers could fulfill a goal presented at the season’s outset.

“We just talked about this in the locker room. We really do want that,” Lange said of a conference crown. “It was one of our goals at the beginning of the season — a PAC (title). We definitely want to come out and win.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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