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Clint Keller | The Journal Gazette
Bellmont’s Payton Schultz, left, and Steph Shoup celebrate a kill Thursday in their home match against Carroll. Schultz had seven kills.

Braves volleyball clears NHC hurdle

– To remain on top of the NHC, the Bellmont volleyball team needs to play its best when challenged.

The Class 3A No. 3 Braves got pushed by their NHC nemesis, Carroll, in the first game and then cruised in the final two Thursday to stay on track for another unbeaten conference record, winning 25-22, 25-16, 25-14.

Bellmont (15-3, 3-0 NHC) hasn’t lost a conference match since Carroll (15-6, 2-1) won in 2005. The Braves have won the NHC title with 7-0 records each of the previous three seasons, with the Chargers going 6-1 each year.

“We came out not really knowing what was going to happen tonight,” said Bellmont’s Taylor McDonald, the team’s lone senior. “We were confident, but Carroll is the game we have to win for conference, and we knew we could take care of it after that first game. (Coach Craig Krull) always says Carroll brings out the best in us, and it did again.”

The Braves have four NHC matches remaining, but none are against the caliber of competition such as the Chargers.

“This match usually determines our conference, and Carroll comes at us,” Krull said.

Carroll came at Bellmont in the opener, but seemed to tail off after that.

“Losing that first one after a hard-fought game might have drained them a little bit, but (the Chargers) still fought,” Krull said. “You could tell, though, that they were still a little down. I think we were on our game the whole time, and we stayed a little bit mentally tougher all the way through.”

It was a disappointing performance for Carroll after coming into the match on an upswing.

“In that first game, we played hard and aggressive and competed, and unfortunately it fell apart after that,” Carroll coach Doug Helsom said. “I would love to know the difference in what those kids have in the ‘best in them’ because I would love to bring out the ‘best in us.’ Unfortunately we aren’t able to give Craig (Krull) the game we are capable of, especially in the last couple of weeks in what we have been playing like, and what we are have been doing. That was as big of a surprise to me and, I am sure, our kids as well.”

Bellmont’s confidence level certainly increased after the first game.

“There is that nervousness in that first game, once you know you got it, we got it,” said McDonald, who celebrated her 18th birthday Thursday. “Our biggest thing is staying in that state of mind and staying focused and play our game.”

Alex Fuelling led the Braves with 12 kills and five aces, while Payton Schultz added seven kills. McDonald and Madison Schultz each added six kills.

For Carroll, Moriah Fair had nine kills and 10 digs, while Lauren Pietzak had 20 assists and nine digs.