“We knew it was gonna be battle.”
Coach Chuck Morris was prepared to go the distance against Alleghany on Tuesday, and that’s exactly what he and the Lady Bears did. After trailing 2-1, Mount Airy won back-to-back sets to win its third match of the season.
The Granite Bears (3-1) have gone to at least four sets in each of their four matches this season. While they’ve had some close encounters thus far, Tuesday’s match was about as close as you can get. With set scores of 25-20, 23-25, 20-25, 25-16, and 18-16, conditioning was key for a Bears team that spent the off-season conditioning for just such an occasion.
“[Our conditioning] paid off a ton,” Morris said. “That was our mantra walking into fifth set. We did stuff all during the summer for this, and I was pleased with how they kept their energy up.”
“They’re developing toughness and grit,” Morris continued.
The Lady Bears’ toughness showed as early as the first set. Despite Mount Airy building an early 9-3 lead, Alleghany (0-1) battled back in its season opener to cut the score to just two points at 13-11. Hannah Williams ended the Trojans’ run with a kill.
Kenzi Lyall and Cameron Hawkins were as intimidating a duo as any hitters out there. The pair led the first-set comeback and helped tie the game at 14-all. Mount Airy’s Hanne Cooke went all over the floor to ensure the Bears maintained the lead. Despite a number of ties, the Lady Bears never surrendered the lead in the first set on the way to a 25-20 win.
Slow starts plagued the Trojans in their first match of the season. Much like the first set, Mount Airy built an 8-point lead out of the gate. Brooke Lankford and Elizabeth Heck kept the ball in play for Mount Airy as Piper Draughon and Cooke put points away.
As quick as the lead was built, it was taken away. A pair of aces and a handful of kills from the Trojans cut the lead once more to two at 14-12. In addition to having attackers in Lyall and Hawkins, Lucy LeMasters kept the ball in play for some of the longest rallies in the game.
“They were tough nuts to crack,” Morris said.
Tied at 18-18, Mount Airy took a lead after tips from Draughon and Avery Cox. Alleghany proceeded to go on a 6-1 run to force a Bear timeout at set point, 21-24. Mount Airy managed to cut the lead to 23-24 before the Trojans took the set on the next point at 23-25.
Momentum continued to shift as Alleghany took and maintained the lead for the majority of the third set. Service errors for Mount Airy gave points away, allowing the Trojans to take the third set 20-25.
Down 1-2, Mount Airy began playing some of its best volleyball of the night and of the season. Neither team could gain a true advantage in the early going. Mount Airy scored first, but the team proceeded to trade points until 11-11. The Bears then put pressure on Alleghany to make kills, and it resulted in a number of errors by the visiting team.
In a sudden turn of events, Mount Airy went on 12-2 run to take a 22-13 lead. Last ditch efforts by the Trojans weren’t enough to come back, and Mount Airy took the fourth set 25-16.
Entering the winner-take-all fifth set, neither team folded. Once again the teams traded points. Service errors and kills were seen on both sides as they each kept grinding. Mount Airy took the largest lead of the set on a big block that put the Bears up 12-9.
With adrenaline pumping throughout the gymnasium, everything came to a sudden halt when two Trojans collided head-to-head. Play was halted as one was rushed to the hospital with a nose injury and the other sidelined.
It took about 25 minutes for the court to be sterilized, giving each team a chance to regroup. Alleghany had to adapt and form a new lineup with just seven available players. This didn’t mean, however, that they were ready to quit.
The team’s battled to a 14-14 tie, meaning the first team fortunate enough to win two straight points would go home with the victory. A kill from Cooke put the Bears up 15-14, but the Trojans matched. A net violation by Alleghany gave Mount Airy a 16-15 lead, but it was evened once more on a kill from Lyall.
It seemed Lyall would repeat until Lankford and Draughon combined for a major block to go up 17-16. Heck swooped in with a left-handed attack to solidify the win.
Though they’re celebrating now, Mount Airy will have little rest before taking on another daunting task on Thursday in North Surry. The Greyhounds have lost three straight matches, but all have been to volleyball powerhouses. Morris said his team has to keep fighting in order to defeat the Lady Hounds.
“I want to keep seeing the grit and the fight. North Surry right now is a scary animal. It’s not their mentality to lose. They’re coming in guns blazing, and we have to come in ready to battle. We have to be prepared to play just as tough or tougher than them.”
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith