TEST SESSION: Southwestern’s Keely Fink (8) is hugged by Abby Ralston, Kassey Worcester (7) and Lakyn Wilson after her late tip kill gave the Rebels match point against Salem on Tuesday. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
TEST SESSION: Southwestern’s Keely Fink (8) is hugged by Abby Ralston, Kassey Worcester (7) and Lakyn Wilson after her late tip kill gave the Rebels match point against Salem on Tuesday. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Southwestern volleyball dropped it’s first set of the season but then rallied back in the next to out-battle a scrappy Salem squad, clinch a 3-1 win Tuesday and improve to 3-0 on the season.

Southwestern held a 2-0 set lead when the Lions gutted out a 25-23 win in set three at Delbert O. King Gym in Hanover. The fourth set was an even tougher battle. Salem led 18-14 and the game was tied at 22 and 24 but the Lady Rebels closed out the match for a 25-18, 25-23, 23-25, 26-24 win.

Southwestern coach Chris Johnson described the match as “stressful” but noted that it was also a good early season stress test for a team that had easily rolled over South Dearborn and Clarksville prior to Tuesday.

“It was stressful and honestly a lot of that was Salem,” Johnson said. “That is definitely by far the scrappiest team that we have seen this year and I’m guessing it’s going to be one of the better defensive teams that we’re going to see all season.

“I felt like there was a big advantage we had with our offense ... but I felt like in the second and third sets we made too many mistakes to stay in our offense,” Johnson added. “When we did get good swings on the ball they were good hard swings. I’m proud of our front row tonight. I think they were aggressive and did a lot of good things with the ball offensively.”

Senior middle blocker Madison Coles had 23 kills on 57 attempts for a .404 hitting average with six blocks and five aces on 10 for 14 serving while junior middle blocker Keely Fink had 13 kills, a block and two aces for the Rebels. Senior setter Abby Ralston had six kills, 11 digs and 37 assists and junior libero Lakyn Wilson had a kill and two aces on 21 for 24 serving with 16 digs.

“Madison Coles was our big star tonight,” said Johnson. “She did an awesome job leading the offensive effort and stepping up when we needed her. She truly took control at the net and the serving line. Overall, a mentally tough team effort win led by our lone senior.”

The easiest set of the night came in the opener when Southwestern went on a 6-2 scoring run after the teams were tied at 15 to close out the game 25-18. The second set saw Salem lead 22-20 before a kill and an ace by Ralston pushed the Rebels ahead for good. Salem called two late timeouts to try to slow the Rebels’ momentum buut there was no stopping Southwestern in the 25-23 decision.

Salem bounced back from an 8-4 deficit in set three to forge an 11-11 tie and take a 15-12 lead. As Southwestern’s errors continued to pile up the Lions pushed out to a 23-16 cushion before a late rally slashed the margin to 24-23 only to see Salem score set point on a Southwestern serve reception thatwas sent too deep into the net for the team to handle the ball.

“We had trouble with serve/receive at a couple of different points throughout the match and especially in key moments we didn’t do so hot at that,” Johnson said. “Some of the mistakes I don’t mind, but we have too many of them on the stat sheet I can tell you that. But some of them I don’t mind when I feel like we’re being aggressive. End of the second set and into the third and fourth set I felt like we just got sloppy. We got away from good, hard aggressive mistakes and started to get into just sloppy play and making bonehead mistakes.”

Johnson also said his offense was getting far too predictable for a strong defensive team like Salem and the Lions were easily anticipating where the attacks would take place.

“There was a point in the third set were I felt like we were going to the middle hitters too much and their defense was just sitting there waiting on a middle set so I talked to Abby Ralston, the setter, and told her we need to spread the ball out a little bit and she started getting the ball a little bit more outside and that loosened up their defense and then in the fourth set when we came back to our middle they had more room to hit,” Johnson said. “I think that was a good strategic move on our part to make sure we were varying our offense to try to get them to shift their defense.”

The closest battle of the night came in the fourth set when there were four ties and Southwestern didn’t take its first lead until 19-18. After that there were ties at 23 and 24 before a tip kill by Fink gave the Rebels the lead for good at 25-24. Salem was then unable to get Fink’s serve back on match point.

“Basically one of the only things I said in the locker room is I think Salem is a mentally tough team — they didn’t put their heads down at all over the course of the night — and I don’t think we did either,” Johnson said. “I think the girls did a good job of keeping their heads up even when we were in the midst of making mistakes and we did a good job of staying mentally tough.”

Southwestern (3-0) visits Scottsburg Thursday before playing in the Madison Invitational on Saturday. Johnson said playing teams like Salem will prepare the Rebels for what lies ahead.

“It was a good solid test of where we are. South Dearborn and Clarksville both kind of just gave up at some point and I think Salem wasn’t going to do that,” Johnson said. “They weren’t going to give in and if we were going to beat them we were going to have to beat them. They weren’t going to beat themselves so I think it was definitely a good testament to where we are as a program early on in the season. I think we’re in a good place.”