MHC VOLLEYBALL - Rams grab big early leads and are never challenged against league rivals
by: David Ball Central Catholic's Lexie Skalbeck, 8, and Raina Hembry combine for a block during Thursday's sweep over Gresham.

Defending 6A volleyball champ Central Catholic hadn't dropped a single set through 10 early-season matches, so what was making Rams' coach Rick Lorenz nervous as he walked to the bench to start Thursday's match? For one, Mount Hood rival Gresham was setting up on the other side of the net, and two, the flu bug paid a visit to his team this week.

His fears were quickly laid to rest, as the Rams dominated Game One forcing Gresham to rally late just to reach double figures on the scoreboard. The entire match lasted barely an hour with the Rams cruising to a 25-12, 25, 12, 25-13 sweep.

'We've been sick all week, so this was a gutsy performance,' Lorenz said. 'I was expecting it to be much closer, but they showed up and we only missed five serves all night.'

Central started pulling away in the second set when Raina Hembry came up with a block and a kill out of the middle, and teammate Martenne Bettendorf followed with a kill that ended up in the top row of the bleachers for an 18-9 lead. Kailee Johnson kept on the pressure with back-to-back blocks, as Central controlled the net all night.

'We work on blocking the most in practice because that's the part of the game where you have the most mistakes,' Lorenz said. 'You have to get that timing down, but when you block the way we did tonight, you start making the hitters think instead of hit.'

The Rams were untouched in the finale, as well, peeling out to a 14-4 lead behind Olivia Skalbeck's five-point serving spurt. It took a net violation on Central to end the run.

'You can't get down six or seven points against a team like Central,' Gophers coach Lori Anderson-Cook said. 'We need to be more competitive. We came out tonight and were thinking too much, and it becomes a mental game. We need to go out and attack.'

Gresham's longest run came in the third set when Jayde Folsom redirected a ball for a winner, and Haley Crouser came up with a block as part of a four-point rally.

Bettendorf had 17 kills for the Rams, while Johnson finished with six blocks.

Central moves to 4-0 in league, 11-0 overall.

'I feel good about where we are, and I feel we're only going to get better,' Lorenz said. 'Tonight we showed that we're tougher than I thought.'

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