Vikings top Kalamazoo Central 3-1

NILES — In the SMAC East and West crossover volleyball match between Niles and Kalamazoo Central, the Vikings ended up on top, despite an early injury for one of its key players.

Niles defeated the Maroon Giants 3-1, 25-8, 25-22, 23-25 and 25-17.

In the first match, Niles starting middle hitter Nikki Nate, rolled her ankle. Nate, a senior, is a key part of the Vikings’ hitting and blocking game, said head coach Jenny Nate.

Nikki Nate

Despite the ankle injury, Nate continued to play, but the team had to make adjustments.

Those adjustments allowed other hitters on the court, including senior outside hitters Taylor Bailey and Zoie Appleberry, to step up against a strong Kalamazoo Central team. Bailey led the team with 12 kills and Appleberry added eight.

“That changed the dynamic a little bit,” Nate said of daughter Nikki’s injury. “What it did do was force other people to step up in hitting spots. It was nice to see other people really score and bring it on from other angles.”

Nate said the Vikings had to work together harder as a team. From the bench, the team was rallying around Nikki Nate, who continued to play, but was not able to block and hit at her full capacity. She led the team with 15 points and contributed nine kills, four blocks and 10 digs.

With a huge lead in the first game, Niles felt prepared that first match after watching film leading up to the game.

“They played big,” Nate said. “We came out that first set with great energy and playing very smooth.”

As the second set commenced Niles and Kalamazoo Central fought neck and neck for each point, with the Vikings taking the lead due to several Maroon Giants side-out and serving errors.

By the third set, the Vikings’ momentum slowed down and Kalamazoo Central’s hitting game started to connect.

To counteract the third game loss, Nate said she told her team to pick up its energy. The seniors, who were playing their last home game on the Niles court, responded with the fourth set win, leading the team to a victory over the Maroon Giants.

From the sidelines, Nate told her team to play every ball like it was their last. She also encouraged them to focus on winning points one at a time.

The energy returned, with the help of varsity’s lone freshman and right hitter Jillian Bruckner, who stepped onto the court with enthusiasm to pump up her teammates.

“When we have big energy we are in it,” Nate said. “When that energy comes back, the win comes back.”

And that is what happened for Niles in their final game, the energy returned and with it so did their attacking opportunities.

Senior setter Grace Florkowski also remained a constant and key player throughout all four matches, leading the team with 22 points for the night and with 13 digs.

To prepare for the St. Joseph Invitational at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, the Vikings will work on continuing to put the ball away from all angles throughout the game and staying aggressive.

“We don’t want to get caught kind of sitting back defensively and waiting for what’s going to happen,” Nate said. “We want to control what is happening from our side so cause them to constantly have to react and respond.”

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