EARLVILLE — It's been an awfully long time since a Newark varsity volleyball team has tasted defeat during the regular season of a Little Ten Conference campaign.
Excluding tournament play, the Lady Norsemen haven't lost a single match during the LTC grind in almost 10 years.
That streak continued and reached 76 consecutive victories as Newark — the defending Class 1A champions — recorded a rock-solid, 25-10, 25-15 league triumph over Earlville on Thursday evening here at EHS to raise its record to a perfect 14-0 and 4-0 throughout LTC play.
The Lady Norsemen's last conference defeat coincidentally came during the final game of the 2009 campaign when they dropped their final regular-season contest at Leland to the then cooperative between Earlville and Leland. Since then, it's been pure domination for Newark in the Little Ten ranks.
"I'm not sure any of the girls know about that streak at all, which might be good because I just want them to keep playing hard," said NHS veteran coach Tonya Grayson. "But it's certainly something we're proud of as a program, and we intend on keeping that run going as long as we can. Tonight we did a fine job serving, and our block was a lot better than it has been as of late."
With the win, the Lady Norsemen have dropped only one of 29 sets so far this season while allowing opponents to reach 20 points a mere four times. Opponents are averaging just 13.6 points per game.
"We're a third of the way through our regular season, we're starting to peak, and I told the girls it's 'go time' from here on out," Grayson said. "Tonight was a good start in that pursuit, and I was pretty happy with our effort."
Junior all-stater Madi Malone headed that effort with 14 kills, five digs, three points and two aces, while senior Mattie Chapman followed with eight kills and three blocks. Sophomore Megan Williams added two winners, four blocks and five digs ahead of classmate K.J. Friestad's six points, two kills and a blocker.
Defensively, senior libero Meggie Scott paced the group with eight digs. Junior setter Taylor Christian dished up 22 assists along with four aces, while junior Cassidy Adams added nine serving tallies and two aces.
Earlville (8-5, 2-2) could only register 12 attack points, as seniors Jadyn Pickert and Kylie Koontz put down three and two winners, respectively, with Meghann Harness chipping in with two aces and 12 digs.
"Our serve-receive was kind of spotty tonight, and against a great team like Newark you can’t have that happen," said veteran EHS coach Tonya Scherer. "We got some hands up on blocks and dug up a bunch of their hits, but our serve-receive really fell apart and killed us."
Malone started like a house afire, pounding down six early kills to stake her team to an 11-8 lead. Scott then went on a mini four-point service run with an ace to give the Lady Norsemen a 15-8 advantage. Four sideouts later, Adams closed out the first game with an 8-0 serving stretch where Malone rifled off three more left-side winners, including a dagger into the back right corner on set point.
"We wanted to come out prepared to play together with fire, and Taylor's setting was amazing to me in the first game," Malone said. "She connected with us very well, and Meggie's defense was outstanding in getting off to a great start."
The Lady Red Raiders hung tight in the second set, trailing 10-9 before Friestad went on a six-point service run where Chapman proved a beast in the middle with three kills and a stuff block as the Lady Norsemen closed out the match on a 15-6 run.
"Coach Grayson got us fired up before the match and told us we need to step it up a notch and really show how dominant we can be," Chapman said. "I think we made her proud. I believe we were all really on point tonight, and we're pretty happy about where we're at so far this season."