NAPPANEE — NorthWood's Maddy Payne sat on the bench to start Thursday's Northern Lakes Conference volleyball match against Elkhart Memorial.
There was strategy behind the move and it certainly worked, as Payne's strong hitting helped lift the No. 3-ranked (Class 3A) Panthers past the Crimson Chargers, 25-15, 25-23, 25-18.
The 6-foot-1 senior provided an immediate spark when she entered the match and she was a matchup problem throughout the evening for Memorial.
Payne finished with 16 kills and five blocks for NorthWood, which improved to 18-3 overall and 3-0 in the NLC.
"When she was in the front row tonight those were our spurts," said NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig. "She lit a fire offensively for us."
Laidig then went on to explain why Payne didn't start.
"Memorial has a stronger middle that they start up there," the Panthers coach said. "I just thought our second middle is a pretty good middle too and I thought Maddy could really have an advantage over their (second middle).
"When we played New Prairie (last Saturday at the Concord Invitational) we did that with Maddy and had some success.
"She's a team kid and she'll do what's best for the team. She knows she's a great player. Starting or not I think she's good."
Payne entered the match against Memorial with her team leading 9-7 in the first game. She didn't wait to make an impact, as the standout middle hitter recorded four kills, two blocks and a service ace, which helped extend NorthWood's lead to 19-11. Payne's kill sealed a 25-15 win in the first set for the Panthers.
"Even if we had timed (Payne) better, which we didn't most of the night, quite honestly, she's probably hitting over at least one of my middles," said Memorial coach Jacquie Rost, whose team fell to 10-8 overall and 4-1 in the NLC. "When you have that and all you can do defensively is have your backrow cover as best as they can behind. I thought (Payne) had a phenomenal game."
The second game was close throughout, with the biggest lead being three points, which NorthWood owned at 8-5 and Memorial possessed at 16-13.
Laidig called her lone timeout of the match when her team trailed 15-13 in the second set.
"I just said to them that we just had to be confident in the things that we could do and earn points at the end and not panic," Laidig said. "I wanted them to go out there and have fun. These girls like to have fun and when they have fun they do good things."
There was fun and good times during most of the third game for NorthWood, as the Panthers led most of that game. NorthWood finished that set with a 9-5 run, with the final points of the set and the match coming on a kill from Kate Rulli.
Rulli finished the match with six kills and five blocks.
"We have great senior leadership," Laidig said. "These girls have some good varsity experience and they've been in games where we've had a letdown. They have that will now not to let that happen."
Rost was impressed with her opponent.
"We didn't get in any kind of rhythm tonight and I give all the credit to NorthWood for that," Rost said. "We never really caught up to their tempo on offense. I said to Hilary when we were shaking hands (after the match) that I knew they had a good offense. I had seen them on film. But their defense (tonight) was really impressive to me too and not just at the net. They're tall and I figured that they would block well. But I also thought they did a phenomenal job in the backrow.
"We'll refocus and keep training. But all the credit to NorthWood. I thought they played well and deserved to win."
Memorial was led offensively by Olivia Gonsoski, who finished with eight kills.
NORTHWOOD DEF. ELKHART MEMORIAL 25-15, 25-23, 25-18
Memorial leaders: Aces - Jackie Fernandez 1, Kendrea Randles 1, Maddie Boomershine 1. Assists - Boomershine 20, Margaret Wiegand 5. Kills - Olivia Gonsoski 8, Kaitlin Presswood 4, Felisha Campanello 3. Blocks - Campanello 5, Randles 2. Digs - Emily Anderson 13, Jackie Fernandez 6, Boomershine 3.
NorthWood leaders: Aces - Macy Lengacher 1, Kendal Miller 1. Assists - Caroline Mullet 37. Kills - Maddy Payne 16, Kate Rulli 6, Alea Minnich 5, Ali Knepp 2. Blocks - Payne 5, Rulli 5. Digs - Miller 9, Lengacher 6, Kennedy Hochstetler 3, Mullet 3.
Records: Memorial 10-8 (4-1 NLC), NorthWood 18-3 (3-0 NLC).
JV: NorthWood def. Memorial 25-22, 18-25, 15-12.