WHEELING - With junior Shauntel Saunders providing plenty of power with her serve, and sophomore Carly Greer dominating the net, Wheeling Park was able to present first-year coach Leslie Waechter with a victory in a mutual season opener against city rival Wheeling Central on Wednesday.
Making the victory even sweeter for the Patriots was the fact that it came in three sets, including a pair of dominating triumphs in the first two games.
Saunders scored the final seven points of the opener and added a nine-point rally in the second game as the Park rolled 25-12 and 25-14 before scratching out a 26-24 clincher in the finale at Wheeling Central's East Wheeling gym.
Park’s Elizabeth Hooper (21) taps one over the net as Wheeling Central’s Marissa McFadden defends. Looking on are Park’s Lindsey Bise (10) and Jalena Marshall (2).
The Maroon Knights, who battled back from a six-point deficit in the third game to make it close, are also being led by a first-year head coach in former St. Clairsville High School standout Missy Gossett.
It didn't take long for the Patriots to get the 2011 campaign moving, with a quick victory in the first game, thanks in large part to the play of Saunders and Central's inability to keep the ball inside the lines.
Wheeling Park led by as many as eight early in the opener only to watch the hosts trim the deficit to five at 17-12. A point on a long Knights' serve was followed by seven straight Saunders points to ice it.
The second game may have had a similar score, with Wheeling Park staying in control of things, however, as similar as the road was to get there, the Patriots had to break away from their rivals after an 11-11 deadlock.
Park outscored Central by a 14-3 margin the rest of the way, including another long run with Saunders holding serve and ripping off nine in a row.
"I have really not seen Shauntel (Saunders) serve like that," Waechter said. "I was very pleasantly surprised."
The third contest started just as the first two had, with the Maroon Knights taking a 1-0 lead, only to fall behind quickly thereafter. But with the Patriots holding an 11-6 edge, Central began battling back and knotted the count once again at 11-11.
A total of 12 ties followed, with each team taking turns pulling into one-point leads. The Knights actually led by three, 17-14, on a kill by senior Alex Neidhardt.
Knotted at 24-24 late, the Patriots closed the match with a point off a long Central serve and a Greer tap-over to close things out.
"Shauntel really sparked us with her service, Carly (Greer) played very well at the net and had a good base, and I cannot leave out the sets and the overall leadership from our only senior, Jalena Marshall," Waechter added. "We are very young on the court, but I like how we played together.
"I am not satisfied, but I am very happy to get our first win."
Saunders finished the game with 15 aces while Greer added seven kills and two blocks and junior Lindsey Bise had a pair of kills.
Park also got plenty of help from a slew of other players, including sisters Keleigh and Ashleigh Sidon, McKenzie Rodgers, Mirian Flatley and Elizabeth Hooper.
While Gossett knows there is plenty of room for improvement for her team, she was impressed with the enthusiasm.
"Our biggest need is to get consistent on our serves and save points," Gossett said. "The other thing is knowing who should be going after tipped balls.
"But it really surprised the heck out of me how enthusiastic the girls played and how they were diving for balls, we haven't even been doing that in practice."
Both teams return to action Saturday with Wheeling Park playing host to a triangular with Buckeye Local and Meadowbrook and Central entertaining Barnesville.