One thing that Mount Airy volleyball has not been this season is consistent. The Lady Bears can look great one night, and not-so-great the next.
With the state playoffs looming, and even the Northwest 1A Conference race not completely out of reach, head coach Chuck Morris was hoping to see the Dr. Jekyll version of his team on Tuesday night, rather than Mr. Hyde. He got his wish in a decisive 25-13, 25-19, 26-24 victory over visiting Bishop McGuinness.
”I think they realized that it’s getting down to crunch time, and this is a conference match,” said Morris. “We can’t afford to lose any conference match, and there’s a couple of teams we’ve got to fight through. I think they realized it was time to go.”
“They played disciplined tonight, and more poised than we had in a while.”
The Lady Bears expected a battle from the Villains and got one, as Bishop was very competitive in all three sets. Mount Airy (10-8 overall, 5-2 NW1A) led just 14-12 at the midway point of sets one and two before making a run to pull away. In set three, Morris changed his substitution pattern and let his reserves play more, and the Villains led 17-10 at one point. However, Morris stuck with his lineup and the Lady Bears fought back to eventually win the set and complete the sweep.
The Villains, who started the season strong but have struggled in conference play, also knew this match was a must-win for their postseason prospects. Both teams played with a sense of urgency from the get-go, and after Jordyn Johnson scored a block on Mount Airy’s Kalie Mabe, Bishop led the opening set 6-5. The lead had already changed twice and the score had been tied four times.
On the next point, Piper Draughon crushed a ball that Bishop back-liner Sarah Lininger was unable to dig, tying the set again. When Mabe rejected an attack from Olivia Martin to win the next point, the Lady Bears never trailed again. They built a five-point lead, but the Villains battled back and trailed just 14-12 before the home team made its move. With Hannah Williams on the service line, Mount Airy reeled off seven straight points, including an ace by Williams at 15-12. Other highlights including Draughon blasting a ball off Shyann McDonald for a point, and Hanne Cooke getting an easy kill when Bishop received serve and floated the ball right back over the net. Johnson ended the run with a kill for the Villains, but Brooke Lankford won a side-out for her team and then Cooke served it out, with Mount Airy finishing the set on an 11-1 run.
The Lady Bears opened set two just as strong. Avery Cox broke a 1-1 tie with an ace, and then Draughon whacked another kill off a defender. Lankford did the same to Bishop’s Caroline Coyle, and then Williams served up another ace for a 5-2 lead. However, it remained close for a time, with the Villains pulling within 8-7 at one point, and later at 13-11 and 14-12. Bishop appeared to be slightly out-playing the hosts at this point, but at 14-12 and on serve, Villains head coach Shawn Jacobsen surprisingly asked for a time-out.
When play resumed, the Lady Bears’ Meredith Cox was able to win a rally by making a well-placed bump shot on the other end. Lankford followed with another well-place shot off a good set from Cox, and it was 16-12. Mount Airy hit a bad serve, but kept the momentum as Draughon again beat a Villain in a battle at the net, and then Lankford set Mabe for a kill that made it 19-12. Bishop won the next two points, but Lankford answered with a kill, and then Mabe and Williams powered winners through Villain blocks. Bishop won the next two to make it 22-17, but Cox fooled Bishop with an on-two attack and later served an ace to take the set.
For set three, Morris opened up with Draughon, Williams and Mabe all on the bench, and Williams never did play in the set, while junior Elizabeth Heck, sophomore Bailey Sizemore and freshman MacKenzie Welch earned more playing time. It took a while for the new combinations to be effective, and the Villains won the first three points of the set. The Lady Bears fought back to tie the set at 5, but then fell behind once again. Bishop was on a 7-2 run when Morris called time-out down 17-10, but whatever he told his team, it worked.
“We made a couple of changes, and the kids got behind, but they responded,” said Morris.
Hanne Cooke scored a kill out of the break to get a side-out for the Lady Bears, and the team scored four straight before Bishop won a point. However, the Villains immediately served the ball into the net, and after the teams traded points a few times, Lankford took serve for the Lady Bears and the Villains needed four hits to return, making the score 19-17. She served a clean ace on the next play, and then Welch found an open spot on the floor and made the kill to tie the score at 19. Johnson swung away and got a kill for Bishop, and the Villains went back in front 22-20 moments later.
The decisive moment came on the next rally, with both teams making fine digs to keep the ball alive until Mabe smashed a winner. Heck, on the outside left, put the next two balls away on virtually identical plays, getting good sets and finding an opening in the middle of the Bishop defense. The Villains put the next ball into the net to give Mount Airy double match point. They saved both, but Johnson hit the ball long at 24-all to give the Lady Bears a third match point, and this time Cooke hit the winner.
Mount Airy travels to North Davidson on Monday night.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.