By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — For four games to start the season, Troy’s Lauren Freed watched and waited … and, most of all, wanted.
“I’ve been wanting on the court so bad,” said the senior, who has been nursing an injury suffered in the preseason and slowly working her way back. “Coach has put me in on defense a few points here and there, but that’s been like a tease.”
Saturday, Freed showed how much progress she made.
Freed suited up for the Trojan volleyball team as a libero Saturday against a talented young Miami East squad, getting her first start and full match’s worth of action of the season. But the big surprise came in Game 3, when Freed took to the service line and unleashed her devastating jump serve, ripping off six straight points — four of them aces.
It proved to be just the shot in the arm the Trojans needed, as well, as Troy (5-0) bounced back from dropping the second game to close the Vikings out in four, 25-20, 20-25, 26-24, 25-21 at Miami East High School.
For Freed, who still isn’t 100 percent but continues to work hard, just being able to contribute in a big match was plenty.
“I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time I was on the floor,” she said. “Everyone else was like ‘why aren’t you stressed? We’re down four points!’ But I’ve just been wanting it so bad.
“Coach told us we’d never beat East at their place before the match, so our energy level never got down. I think that’s what put us ahead.”
Troy coach Michelle Owen said that Freed hadn’t even jumped in practice until the day before — and serving was not on the practice workout schedule, either.
“Honestly, she just started jumping yesterday in practice, and we hadn’t worked on serving at all. Just primarily defense,” Owen said. “But her serve was such a weapon for us last year against East. She said ‘can I try?’ I said ‘but we haven’t practiced it yet.’ She just had this look and said ‘doesn’t matter.’ So I said okay.
“I was happy for her. She just wants to be able to contribute to the team so bad, even if it’s just defensively. But she wants to get back and be able to terminate the ball, too.”
That move to libero allowed Victoria Holland, who had played the position most of the first week, to step up to the front row — and that move paid off, too. Holland had four kills in the first game before tweaking her ankle, but she remained in the match and helped the Trojan blocking up front. She finished with four kills and three blocks in the match.
“We worked on a whole new system with Lauren in the back, and we knew our best shot to win this was with our experience up front with Holland,” Owen said. “We struggled blocking the other night against Fairmont, and (Miami East’s) Jonni (Parker) is much more aggressive than that, so we had to make sure our rotation was stacked. For Victoria to step up and play strong, that was huge. Her ball control was a big help.”
The Vikings (1-3) were aggressive, too, particularly in the second game. A series of blocks by Kyndall Hellyer and Kati Runner allowed them to take the early lead, then after Troy closed to within one at 21-20, a pair of Troy errors, a tip kill by Parker to the back corner and an ace by Jillian Wesco closed out the set and squared up the match.
Parker led the Vikings with 15 kills and three blocks, while Hellyer had four kills, four blocks and an ace.
“Overall, Jonni’s hitting percentage was very high. And that’s pretty standard for her,” Miami East coach Brian Bensman said. “Our middle Hellyer played well, too. We’ve just got to have our seniors step up. We’ve got three or four girls that started last year, but the rest are still fresh. We’re still learning what we need to do in certain situations.”
But early in Game 3, Troy took the serve trailing 4-3 and handed the ball to Freed. Instead of the traditional flat-footed serves she’d been using to that point in the match, she let fly with her jump serve. Two balls in a row hit the floor with no one even touching them, and the Vikings were called for a rotation error on the third. They couldn’t handle the next serve, either, and then another ace made the score 8-4 Troy and forced a timeout.
“It was a little bit of a surprise, but she was using it a little in warmups, so it wasn’t too much of one,” Bensman said. “We know what she’s capable of when she’s out there. We just didn’t know how much she was going to go in.”
Freed ripped one final ace coming out of the timeout, a six-point run that put Troy firmly in control. Still, behind five kills by Parker in the game, the Vikings were able to come back and close to within 21-20, but the Vikings missed a tip and Katie DeMeo hammered down a kill to stretch the lead to three. A block on a short ball and a kill by Camryn Moeller later and Dana Wynkoop served up an ace to close out the game.
DeMeo had 14 kills, three blocks and an ace for Troy in the match.
“Katie played well today, and we told her that she needed to,” Owen said. “Jonni has already committed to Ohio State, and that’s one of the places Katie is looking at. She has to be able to play at that level against that kind of competition. This was a good test for her.”
In the fourth game, Troy dictated nearly every point, either winning it with a kill, ace or block or giving the point away on an error. Miranda Silcott had six of her 17 kills in that game alone, Moeller — who led Troy on the day with 18 kills — and DeMeo combined for five kills and two blocks — and Miami East only scored three kills and two aces in the game total, with all of its other points coming on Troy misses. Still, the game was back-and-forth, with neither team leading by more than three until Troy won eight out of 10 points to take a 23-18 lead and finished from there.
And while the Vikings fell to 1-3 on the season, all four matches have been against top-level opponents. They’ll begin Cross County Conference play Thursday, hosting Tri-Village.
“That’s what we wanted to start the season,” Bensman said. “We need to figure out where we’re at and which lineup is going to work. We’re still trying to work some things out, find out who is best where in what situation.”
Troy, meanwhile, travels to Northmont Tuesday before returning home Thursday against West Carrollton.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.