By Cort Reynolds

Ada Herald writer

ADA - The annual Hardin County rivalry volleyball match between Hardin Northern and Ada is always a hard-fought battle, but Monday night's contest had extra sizzle due to the transfer of a key Polar Bear to the host Bulldog squad this season.

Due in part to its hustling play from added motivation, undersized HN had a chance to win each game but ended up losing in three straight intense sets 25-19, 25-21, 25-19.

Ada sophomore middle blocker Lindsay Walden hurt her former team with seven kills, including several key hits as the hosts rallied to end game two on a 10-1 run to finish a critical comeback. The play was spirited on both sides throughout, especially from the fired-up Lady Polar Bears.

"Lindsay had a great match tonight," said first-year Bulldog coach Andrew Woodward. "Hardin Northern played really well, and they have a very good back row."

The Lady Bulldogs improved to 6-4 overall with the win, while scrappy HN fell to 1-6.

"We played hard tonight," said Polar Bear head coach Nancy Souder. "We played with fire, but we have to play with that (fire) consistently."

Set one volleyed back and forth, with the teams trading small leads up to 17-all. HN then served the ball into the net, made a hitting error and Ada freshman Megan Simon fired an ace for a 20-17 Bulldog bulge.

The hosts erred on a set yet a Taylor Willeke kill bounced in off the net for a 21-18 lead. Ada hit long but Northern served in the net again. Alexis Rhodes came up with a big block for the hosts and another HN hitting error got Ada to set point at 24-19.

Rhodes finished the set with a kill to the back row as senior Willeke served the final three points for a six-point win.

In game two, hustling HN led 6-4 before a pair of big hits by Ada sophomore Tori Wyss. The spunky visitors edged in front 11-8 after a Becky McElree service winner, followed by a Rhodes block and a Willeke tip.

Cami Castle hit cross court, Addy Bame served a winner and Brianna Campbell added two big kills to spearhead HN to a 19-13 cushion. Ada crept within 19-15 yet a McElree bump landed near the back line for a 20-15 lead. But then the Bulldogs rallied behind Walden.

The 5-11 sophomore made a big slam and a block, followed by a Sam Wildman ace to cut the deficit to 20-18. Campbell smashed a winning hit past Walden, but the HN transfer responded with a block to end a long rally at 21-19.

Willeke's patented cross-court kill and a Northern mis-hit tied it as the momentum was clearing swinging to the hosts. A Willeke block kill put Ada in front, and Walden then punctuated a long rally with a kill for a 23-21 edge.

On the next point, another long rally ensued with Walden again finishing the crucial play with a smash to earn set point.

HN senior Taylor Allen ended the 6-0 Bulldog run (the last five served by Wyss) with a clutch block kill against Walden. Yet Walden answered with a clean cross-court kill to end the game 25-21.

"Lindsay came up big," said Woodward. But the deflating, decisive 10-1 spurt still didn't dampen HN's fighting spirit.

Morgan Rouch began set three with a service winner for Ada, yet the resilient Bears reeled off nine of the next 10 points, capped by a Julia Poling ace.

However, Ada began to rally behind the hitting of Willeke, Rhodes and Wyss. Two Bulldog errors gave Northern a 13-8 lead, yet the purple and gold then went on a decisive 8-1 spurt.

Willeke began the flurry with a kill, and Rhodes contributed a tip. The teams traded errors, and then Willeke had two hits and Rhodes one to knot it at 14-14. Two Bear miscues and a clean Rhodes kill built the lead to 17-14 as Rouch served five points in a row.

Willeke's smash and two HN errors increased the margin to 20-15. The good-serving Willeke then fired an ace before feisty Northern scored two in a row to stay alive, down 21-17.

The teams traded errors and sophomore Alexis Amburgey came up with a big hit for a 23-18 Ada lead. The Bulldogs hit long after a long rally, but Willeke smashed a kill down the line instead of cross court to reach match point at 24-19.

Ada then closed out the game black and gold squad with a short tip. HN appeared to tire at the end of each set while the Bulldogs got stronger and imposed their will on the smaller, scrappy Bears.

Versatile Willeke led Ada with 10 kills and 15 digs. Rhodes contributed five kills and three blocks. Simon dug up 14 balls and Wyss made 11 digs.

Amburgey dished up 18 assists and Rouch added eight helpers.

"We are still working to get people back from injury," noted Woodward.

"This is something we can build on," offered Souder. "We changed the lineup some, stepped up and played well. We were extra motivated tonight."

There is little time to rest for Ada (1-1 NWC), which visits Northwest Conference foe Allen East in another backyard rivalry match Tuesday night that promises to be an emotional battle as well.

Meanwhile HN visits BVC rival Leipsic Wednesday evening.

"It doesn't get any easier," said Souder. "We have to keep working hard."