BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes, progress is hard to measure. But that wasn't the case for Traverse City West on Monday.
A month after being swept on the road at Petoskey, the Titans returned the favor at home with a 30-28, 25-16, 25-18 Big North Conference win over the Northmen.
TC West (19-12-1, 8-2 BNC) hasn't lost in league play since the match in Petoskey (27-4-4, 7-3 BNC).
"Actually, the first time we saw them we had not played in any tournaments, so we didn't have a lot of playing time together," Titans coach Emily Baumann said. "We had a lot of practice time, but not a lot of on-the-court playing time. So I think that made a huge difference, because we've been in four tournaments now. That helps a lot."
"Last time we were just getting started and hadn't really worked out our team yet," Titans senior Courtney VanHouzen said. "We've been working hard at it and really pulled it off tonight. We're communicating, it's really blending."
The Titans got it going early with a tight win in the first set. Although the Northmen came back to tie the game at 24-24, West never trailed the rest of the way. VanHouzen, Anna O'Hara and Katie Placek came up with one big play after another to match Petoskey middle hitter Megan Tompkins. They finally won it on an O'Hara kill.
"We definitely have an awesome offense," Baumann said. "When somebody steps in the back row, somebody else comes in the front row. So we have a lot of big hitters all of the time. It's definitely something that is awesome for our program, because offensively we're really strong."
The Titans also worked to take Tompkins out of her game. Tompkins, who is headed to Michigan State next fall, finished with 10 kills and 13 digs.
"You have to play to their weaknesses," VanHouzen said. "And, we keep our serves as hard as we can. When you have a hard serve, you can't get a good pass and you can't run your middles."
After a 25-16 win in the second game, the Titans jumped out to a hot start in the third, looking for the sweep. They led 5-0 to start and made it 17-6 off an O'Hara kill. However, Petoskey won the next eight points to close the gap to 17-13.
Baumann elected not to call a time-out and let her team play through it. It worked, as West won the next few points and closed out the match with a 25-18 win.
"Sometimes, I think the girls on the court have to figure it out," Baumann. "It's good to call a time-out when you want to stop them from doing something. But I honestly think it's good for them to work things out. I knew we just needed one side-out, and that was it."
Placek and O'Hara each finished with 15 kills, while VanHouzen had 14. Mattison Mokanyk had 37 assists.
Defense was a big piece for West, as Placek had 14 digs, Megan Traines 12 and VanHouzen and Kimmy Bilinski each added 11.
"We played really good defense, which is something we've been working on since the beginning of the season," Baumann said. "We hit the floor."
In the JV game, TC West stayed unbeaten in conference play at 10-0 with a 25-16, 25-20, 25-14 win.
Carley Drzewiecki had five kills, four digs and a block, Hannah Mead had 17 assists, six digs and two aces while Jodi Turnquist had seven digs, three kills and three aces.
TC West plays Gaylord on Wednesday and travels to its final tournament of the year in Fenton on Saturday.