The Garaway Lady Pirates experienced the easiness of a first-round tournament schedule, and one game later they felt what it was like to be involved in an absolute pressure-cooker.
However, most importantly the Lady P’s came away from both contests a winner, keeping their tournament hopes alive and well as they march through a difficult slate of tourney games in the Div. III East district.
On Oct. 15 the sixth-seed Lady Pirates pounded Monroe Central 25-14, 25-13, 25-11 as they sent the ninth-seed packing in the East 2 district. In that game Garaway’s inspirational leader Emma Warkall collected 19 assists and two service aces while Lizzie Mullet added 10 assists and three aces. As usual Brooklyn Frey led the kill parade with nine while Laiken Wallick collected eight and Liz Yoder added 20 digs.
With the warm-up game now in their hip pocket, things were about to get a whole lot more interesting for Garaway when they squared off with fifth-seed Union Local at Barnesville High School.
This game was everything tournament volleyball should be, filled with incredible drama and some clutch play that allowed Garaway to escape with an upset victory 23-25, 25-20, 25-21, 27-29, 15-7.
“Well, that was exciting,” Garaway head coach Jess Schwartz said.
The mood for the night was set in the opening game, where the two teams went at it in a tightly contested game that saw Garaway fall to the Jets in a tight game.
“I thought we were effected by nerves early on,” Schwartz said.
The Lady Pirates responded by playing better and firing off the two tight wins to take a 2-1 lead. Hoping to end the contest in four games, Garaway engaged in a classic game four that saw both teams have chances to pull out a victory. It would be the Jets finding a way to win in overtime fashion to force the fifth and deciding game.
Garaway led at 25-24 and had the serve, but Schwartz said the serve looked in but was called out. Two points later Garaaway had another chance to put this one in the win column, but a hit that could have gone either way was called out.
“We had a couple of tough calls that didn’t go our way, but you have to find a way to put that aside and go out and play the game because now it’s do-or-die time,” Schwartz said. “I was impressed by the way the girls responded to the adversity and went to work.”
In any fifth game to 15, a big start is so important, and the Lady Pirates got it going early, putting all of the pressure on the Jets.
“We could have been really deflated after that tough game four, but we came right out and played really well and opened up a nice lead early in game five and never looked back,” Schwartz said.
Perhaps the most important player of the night was Yoder, who roamed the back row and kept multiple balls alive for her team, giving Garaway a chance to force the action and attack. Garaway saved its best for last as they pulled away for the win in the fifth game.
Warkall had a monstrous game that saw her do a little bit of everything well, recording 20 assists, hammering home 14 kills and adding 19 digs to her MVP game.
“Emma played an outstanding all-around game, and that is going to have to happen for us to win from here on out,” Schwartz said. “But she is capable of handling the pressure.”
Brooke Werker knocked down 10 kills and added three blocks, Andi Starner fired off three service aces, and Yoder racked up a whopping 35 digs from the back row as the Lady P’s played an inspiring brand of team volleyball that allowed them to survive a huge challenge.
While it may have been an upset based on the seeding, one advantage Garaway had was that it had to wade through an incredibly gifted Inter-Valley Conference South league campaign that had the Lady P’s more than ready for the rigors of tournament play.
“Having that difficult of a regular-season schedule is so important when it comes to winning pressure games like this,” Schwartz said. “We are thankful to take our bumps and bruises along the way in league because it prepares us perfectly for what we went through against Union Local. We know it’s a tough league, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The victory over Union Local set up a district semifinal showdown with three-seed Barnesville on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Garaway knows it will take the same kind of determination and effort they displayed against the Jets to continue their tourney trek.