The temperature inside The Pit at Triway High School on Tuesday, Aug. 21 was sweltering hot, but the pace of play and the excitement of the volleyball action taking place between the visiting Hiland Lady Hawks and host Triway Titans was downright blistering.
It was fantastic volleyball just two games into the young season.
“Game two of the season and it was a battle,” Hiland coach Adri Bryk said. “That was high-level, competitive volleyball. They are a very good program, and that is where we want to be.”
“That was very, very competitive volleyball,” Triway coach John Finn said. “Hiland is extremely good, and we knew that coming in, and they kept their composure, and this is not an easy place to keep your composure.”
The two foes took turns trading punches, splitting the first two games, before Hiland came back from a 4-1 deficit in game five to win 15-11.
The Lady Hawks churned out the thrilling win in five sets 25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 12-25, 15-11, and both teams had plenty of chances to take control throughout the evening, but every time one team tried to gain a foothold, the other seemed to find a way to respond.
Hiland went early and often to senior swatter Mya Blochlinger, who helped the Lady Hawks carve out a small lead in game one, a game they held a several-point lead throughout to earn a close win.
With a leg up Hiland looked poised to run away with things in game two when it bolted to a 6-1 lead. However, Triway didn’t quit and led by some inspirational play by libero Allie Malone and big-hitting sophomore Natalie Adams and Emma Kiper. The Titans stormed back, overtook Hiland at 23-all and put the game in the win column.
It was a reversal of fortunes in game three when it was Triway’s turn to dart out to a nice early lead. Hiland took the lead at 13-12. The two teams then battled back and forth until Hiland held a 21-20 edge on a Madison Yoder scorcher.
Moments later Kim Miller dinked a no-look set into no-man’s land for a score, and on the final play of the game, Blochlinger made a great dig, dumping it to Madisynn Bryk, who gently nudged it over the net for the score and the game.
Kiper and freshman Clowie Flinner made sure there would be a game five as they began scoring at will, and Malone’s play in the back row continued to sparkle as Triway hammered Hiland 25-12, never letting the Lady Hawks get any kind of momentum.
That set the stage for a game five showdown, and it would be Triway taking the early edge at 4-1. Coach Bryk said she stresses to her team that winning the race to five is crucial in a 15-point speed game. They didn’t get there first with Triway leading 5-4, but Kim Miller’s 10th kill of the night tied the score at 5-5, and now it was a race to 10.
“We had a lot of experience in five-set games last year, and if you don’t get up early, it is tough to win,” Bryk said.
Hiland then got not one but two crucial calls to go their way, despite a lengthy argument from Triway, and a Yoder ace and two unforced errors later, Hiland held an 8-4 advantage.
“Those kinds of calls shouldn’t affect you mentally, but it does,” Finn said of the two critical calls. “But that is part of the game, and you have to get past that. We always talk about runs, and you can’t give up an extended number of points. They outscored us 14-4 down the stretch, and you just can’t do that. That has been our weakness, but I am confident that we will get through that.”
Hiland led 9-6 when Flinner drove two kills out past the end line, and now up 11-6, the Lady Hawks were on the precipice of blowing the Titans away. A Triway serve into the net and a kill by Yoder made it 13-8, and another Titans error made it 14-8.
Triway wasn’t about to give in now, and two huge Kiper kills and a Hiland mistake later, and it was 14-11.
Things were getting interesting. It was then that setter Kim Miller, who has some serious offensive weapons at her disposal, went to an unheralded source in Nicole Keim. A back-set to Keim saw the junior rip a shot down the right side for the game-winner as Hiland’s bench erupted on to the floor in celebration.
“We are so excited,” coach Bryk said after the game. “We haven’t beaten Triway, so to come here and take the win is absolutely huge for our girls. We showed a lot of mental toughness, which is something we struggled with in the past. We’ve got a lot of returning lettermen back, so that is huge for us to have been in these situations before. Tonight I learned that we have a better mental game than maybe I thought.”
Finn, who watched eight of his key players from last season graduate, is patiently waiting and watching his inexperienced group gain momentum. In close losses to both Hiland and Smithville to start the year, he has seen his team produce an opportunity to win, only to see it slip away.
While both games resulted in losses, there was reason to be excited about what lies ahead for the Titans.
“Our kids battled,” Finn said. “We did a lot of good things. Our passing was a little off, and they passed well and kept the ball in play, and we did that at times.”
Finn said that with young, up-and-coming sluggers like Adams and Flinner learning on the job, the team should develop as the season progresses. With great leaders like Malone to set the example through her relentless work ethic and desire, Finn is excited about the future while being realistic about the present.
“We don’t want to look to the future because the future is now,” Finn said. “Those two youngsters are guns, and Emma Kiper did a nice job. Marissa Brown did a really nice job in the middle of the floor. We played well, and Emma is out there throwing herself everywhere. We have to learn to finish, and once we shed that, we have a chance to be very good. We played hard, we played tough and we were competitive, and that is all you can ask as a coach. I am really happy with our potential, but the reality is the execution isn’t quite there yet. It is on us as coaches to get them where they need to go.”
Wins and losses aside, this was as entertaining of a night of early-season volleyball as one could ask for, and these two teams have every reason to leave the sweltering confines of The Pit feeling good about what took place.