BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City West's big front line helped the Titans to a big rivalry win.
Riding the big hits of Katie Placek, Courtney VanHouzen, Anna O'Hara and Megan Traines, the Titans posted a 25-17, 25-14, 25-18 Big North Conference volleyball victory over Traverse City Central.
"It felt so good," VanHouzen said. "Senior year and beating them at home. It definitely felt good."
O'Hara and Placek had 10 kills each in the victory, with VanHouzen adding eight and Traines five.
"We have a big offense," West coach Emily Baumann said. "We have a big front row, and that definitely helps us offensively. We're definitely starting to bring around our defense."
When the Titans' hitters weren't slamming down kills, they were playing the ball deep into Central's back row, often making the Trojans forsake offense in order to keep the rally going.
"It's something we've been working on," Baumann said. "If the set's not perfect or if the pass isn't perfect up to the hitter, then we've really been working on finding the court and placing it so that we get a kill off a bad (return) hit."
"That was part of them running a great offense, where they were putting down some great hits," Central coach Katherine Brege said. "But we were able to pop it up in some way to still give them a free ball over, but not being able to attack the ball as much as we wanted to."
West opened up with 3-0 run to start the match on two kills by Placek and one from O'Hara and steadily increased its lead to as much as 24-13. Central cut into that a bit with a 4-0 late run before West finally won 25-17.
The second game saw the teams battle to a 6-6 deadlock before the Titans went on a 6-1 run, highlighted by a pair of slams each by O'Hara and VanHouzen.
"We had been struggling a little bit before tonight's game," VanHouzen said. "But we came together and the key was really to play together as a family and a team. We really did that. We were all picking each other up when we were down, and it felt good."
Central came out in the third and led 5-3, but West countered with nine consecutive points to take control, with Traines spiking three home and stuff blocking another in the run.
"We talked a lot," VanHouzen said. "It was really loud and chaotic in the gym, but we were screaming over it and talking and letting our hitters know where they should be hitting. That was really a key element that really brought us a win."
Central was led by Brie Goodno's nine kills. Callie Bartkowiak had three.
"I think our team played an outstanding game of defense, but our offense just wasn't there," Brege said. "We had a lot of hitting errors that made a difference in the game. West played great defense as well."
Libero Leah Potter had 20 digs and an ace for Central, while Maddy Duensing had 15 assists, seven digs and a pair of aces. Goodno had four digs, Paige Emmott seven and Jessie Kushner three.
The victory improves West's league record to 4-2, while the Titans are 4-6 overall.
"I kind of tell the girls, no matter who we play against, it's the same," Baumann said. "It is a rivalry, just because it's Central-West, but to me it's just another game. I mean, it's nice. I'm not going to lie. It's nice. But a win's a win. It feels good."
Central falls to 14-6-1, 2-3 BNC. The two will meet again Oct. 24 at TC Central.
Placek did a little bit of everything for West, excelling on both offense and defense.
"She's a strong player all-around," Baumann said. "She definitely defensively did awesome tonight, so that helped us out tremendously. Kimmy Bilinski did great on defense. Courtney was consistent, and that's what we've been working on with her. That was really awesome for her to be consistent all the way around. It doesn't have to be a big kill all the time, but be consistent and put the ball in (play)."
Allison Peters had 22 assists.
"Allison Peters is a new setter for us right now," Baumann said. "We had a different setter at the beginning of the year, and we switched to her because she's got a little fire under her. It's helping bring our team a little more energy out on the court."
Bilinski had 13 digs and the front-row players also came up big in digs. Placek had 14, Traines 11 and VanHouzen eight.
"We have a very good offense this year," VanHouzen said. "We have good height in the front row. But we can't use them if we don't have a good back row, so we really have to work as a team — and we did today."
Both teams head to Saturday's 21-team Portage Northern tournament. Central opens up with Class D No. 1-ranked Battle Creek St. Philip.