One moment, the match between host Garaway and visiting West Holmes seemed bound for a fourth game in a hot a humid Garaway High School gymnasium Saturday, Sept. 10.
Then like a whoosh of wind, it was over.
After the Lady Knights pounded the Lady Pirates in the first two games of their volleyball match by counts of 25-10 and 25-15, there was a complete reversal of fortunes in game three, where the Lady Pirates roared to a seemingly unbeatable 23-13 lead.
Then two things happened to make that third game a thrilling 31-29 West Holmes victory. One, West Holmes got some incredible serving from senior Kacie Leppla, and two, Garaway started to play not to lose, and in doing so, began making a number of errors and crossing several free balls that allowed West Holmes to get back in the hunt.
“That is probably the first time this year that we have seen that kind of grit and determination from the girls,” said West Holmes coach Savannah Moore. “The story of our life this year has been these roller coaster rides, and when we get in these funks we seem to stay there and can’t work our way out of them. We finally dug deep and showed some grit.”
Leppla kept firing bullet serves into the Lady P’s defense, and Garaway went stone cold as its lead began to shrink. 23-13 became 23-17, forcing Garaway coach Sara Roach to call timeout.
“I just told the girls to take a deep breath and calm down during the first timeout,” said Roach. “They were starting to fight back, but we just needed to keep playing how we had been playing. We needed to take care of the ball, and we’d be fine.”
Only it wasn’t all fine, and soon West Holmes had it back to within 23-22, forcing Roach to call a second timeout.
“We were really getting nervous, and started doing some really silly things on the court,” said Roach. “We still only needed two points.”
Tied at 23, Leppla finally ran out of magic at the service line, and drove her attempt into the net, giving Garaway a point, leaving them one point from extending the match to a fourth game.
But West Holmes went to big banger Lauren Park, who drove home a kill from the back row to tie it up at 24.
Garaway scored again to take the lead, but again Park came through from the back line, and it was 25-all.
It was then West Holmes’ turn to take the lead, but this time Garaway’s Jenna Walter got a key kill to knot things again. The Lady Knights forced another lead at 27-26, but Amber Monigold plunked one into no-man’s land on the West Holmes side to tie it at 27. Sammy Hall got West Holmes the lead, Garaway’s Allison Luneborg found space and tied it up again.
Back and forth they went, until West Holmes grabbed a 30-29 lead on a ball hit out by Garaway, and then Park’s hit was dug by the Lady Pirates, but the ball went very high, hitting the ceiling and redirecting to where no Garaway player could get to it.
It was a wild finish to a day that looked like it was going to be lopsided in favor of the Lady Knights.
“I told the girls after the game I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this game,” said Moore.
“On one hand, I was super-ticked off that we let them get out to that big of a lead. At the same time, I am super-proud that they were able to use it as an opportunity to grow and find a way to win.”
Moore said watching Leppla step up and serve that well under that kind of pressure can not be overlooked as the key to the victory. She said Leppla’s twin sister Kylie did a nice job of hustling all over the court to make plays, and the fact that West Holmes accomplished that run with the big-hitting Park in the back row was truly amazing.
“That is so difficult to serve that well, that consistently long under that kind of pressure, and Kylie was just digging everything in the back row,” said Moore of the twins. “I felt like we just really wanted it, and I could see the fire in our eyes.”
For Roach, the key was Garaway’s inability to put things away when afforded the chance. She said too many unforced errors on serve-receive caused a good deal of their problems, and they suddenly weren’t attacking the net the way they had been in building the lead.
“It was very disappointing,” said Roach of the collapse. “I thought our girls started out a little nervous, and they were tight and playing scared and we aren’t normally like that. So we kind of put ourselves in that situation where we needed to have that third game. We started playing like a completely different team. We finally started playing strong, and I am proud we didn’t give up. We fought hard, but we just couldn’t finish it. We couldn’t get that final two points. I am proud of the girls for not giving up after getting drilled the first two games. It was a real back-and-forth finish, that we just couldn’t put away.”
The win comes at an opportune time for West Holmes, which had struggled recently. The Lady Knights improved to 5-5 on the season, while the Lady Pirates fell to 4-3 on the year.