IAC VOLLEYBALL: TIOGA BATTLES IN LOSS TO UNBEATEN CANDOR (2021-04-01)

BY TIM TAYLOR
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — When Candor and Tioga met here Thursday evening, it was a battle between the reigning queens of the court and a program which has had one of the most impressive histories in IAC volleyball.

The defending Class D state champion Indians would emerge victorious with a 3-0 sweep, frequently displaying their skill as they won the bookend sets, 25-9 and 25-11, while game two was a classic display of a rivalry at it best. Candor won the second set, 25-22, but the Tigers went down scratching and clawing.

Tioga coach Des Ford said she was "really pleased" with how her team overcame its opening set struggles to perform at a high level in the second set.

"They came out, they were nervous," she said. "Rightfully so. Candor is a great team. They're very good. They're solid. I watched the body language. I could tell they were nervous. I said let's just get through the first game, use it as a warm-up, and we have to worry about ourselves, how we perform. We can't worry about anyone else but ourselves.

"It was just back and forth, but Candor changed up, because we were digging and blocking, so they started going to the power tips.And then I think the wind went out of their sail, and against a good team like that the wind can't go out of your sail. You've got to keep it up."

"I think the first game was one of those games where a lot of those little things went our way and we got the momentum very early," Candor coach Pam Quinlan said. "Great traces by the setter, passes, getting there so she could set her hitters up and hitters finishing.

"I think the second game our hitting percentage was a little low. I think we made a lot of errors. Their defense picked up a lot of balls at the net and the back row. We just struggled a little bit more in the second game.

Game two featured no fewer than eight exchanges of the lead before the final point was scored, the last lead coming when a hard shot by Asia Curkendall found a hole in the middle of the Tioga six and put the Indians ahead to stay, 23-22.

The Tigers would grab the early edge, 2-0, with Molly Bombard at the service line and they were still up, 3-1, when Candor made its first short run to go in front. Braelyn Hornick went to the line to serve three points for a 5-3 lead, but Tioga turned the tables with Julia Bellis serving four points to make it 9-5 Tigers. The home team nearly extended its lead, but a hard blast toward the back line went out of bounds by a whisker to give Candor a side out.

The Indians would battle back to knot things up at 11 and would hold a 14-12 advantage at one point, but couldn't pull away and Tioga fought back to take a 16-14 lead. Next came a rapid-fire exchange of the lead — 17-16 Candor, 18-17 Tioga, then 19-18 Candor.

The Tigers would rally to tie the set at 19, 20, 21 and 22, but was never able to regain the lead.

Emme Hall's blast that manage to sneak its way into the back right corner of the court forced the final deadlock, but Curkendall and Shelby Swartz came up with two hard hits for points, then Curkendall ended the game with an ace.

In the opening game, the Indians looked like the team that won a state title 17 months ago, controlling the temp from start to finish. Brayden Watkins served Candor to a 3-0 advantage and Tioga would never get closer than 4-1.

Curkendall, Swartz, Hornick, Selah Ray and Megan Henry, all members of the Indians' state championship squad, showed that title-winning form as the Indians built a 14-5 lead. Curkendall moved to the service line for an eight-point surge to make it 22-5.

The Tigers battled to the end, but couldn't trim the led any closer than 14 points.

The third set was another display of Candor's talents and Watkins served the Indians to a 4-0 advantage. With Bombard putting the ball in play, Tioga rallied to tie the game at four.

With her team up, 9-5, Hornick came up with some big serves and the visitors took advantage of some untimely Tiger miscues to build a 15-5 cushion. The Candor lead would be 10 or 11 points for the next five servers, until Tioga made it 18-9, then took seven of the final nine points to end the match.

Regardless of everything the coronavirus pandemic has thrown at the area athletes, Quinlan feels the season is going really well.

"I'm lucky that I have a pretty good core of returning players and the JV came off a strong season," she said. "I think that some of our new girls are getting some playing time and finding some success on the court, and that helps.

"We still have a setter who runs a great court and some really strong defenders. We have been winning every game, just kind of getting a little bit stronger."

Ford, with a coaching background which spans 30-plus years, knows what it's all about. Her team has beaten the opponents it is expected to beat with the losses coming to state powerhouses.

"I'm pleased. I told them it takes a bigger person to accept a loss, but not that you have to like it," Ford said. "I've got a group of 11 great kids, I really do. I enjoy them a lot. Number one, to me that's huge. It's huge that they support each other. They're great teammates to one another, on and off the court. They are respectful to me, to each other, and that carries them into life. Volleyball is not going to carry them into life.

"Being together, cohesive and supporting each other, the positive comments to each other, that pleases me. I guess it warms my heart to know they support each other like that."

Likewise, the Candor players and their coach have all credited cohesiveness, support and positivity as key factors in their success the past few seasons.

Ford is also impressed with the overall response to COVID-19.

"I think all the kids, all the schools I've watched, the kids, coaches, officials, everybody is handling this well," she said. I think, watching spectators, people are following the rules, trying to keep it so kids can continue to play and finish the school year, and hopefully in the fall we have a normal one."

Hornick dished out 33 assists and served up 14 points, including three aces, as Candor improved to 7-0. Swartz contributed 14 kills, 11 points and six digs, and Curkendall added 11 points, of which four were aces, and also had seven kills, one block and five digs. Ray chipped in with six kills and a block, Henry tacked on nine kills, Watkins served up seven points and Teagan Bartlow had five digs.

Hall tallied six kills, two blocks and an ace for Tioga, which slipped to 4-2. Bellis chalked up four kills, five points and six digs, and Ari Manwaring had two kills and two blocks. Molly Bombard scored five points, including an ace, handed out six assists, and also had one dig while Reese Howey tacked on a kill, two blocks and four digs; Katelyn Perry doled out five assists and Austyn Vance added five digs.

Candor hosts Owego Tuesday and Tioga hosts Spencer-Van Etten next Thursday.

NOTE: Candor extended its streak of regular-season victories to 42 with the win. The Indians are chasing an 87-match run set by Tioga, which ended in September 2018 at the hands of the Indians.

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IN PHOTO 1: Tioga's Mariah Nichols. ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.