The opening night of the NWOAL volleyball season more resembled a season ending district final match at Swanton High School.
On this night the Bulldogs put an end to one Evergreen streak, but couldn’t put the clamps on another as after losing the second set, the Vikings took an epic third set battle, and recovered from a fourth set loss to vanquish the Bulldogs in the fifth set 25-18, 18-25, 33-31, 22-25, 15-12, before an enthusiastic and raucous crowd.
That triumph overshadowed a subpar five set loss to Ayersville on Monday.
“Both teams were really intense,” said victorious veteran Viking coach Kelsey Wulf, whose team has won back-to-back NWOAL titles. “The crowd was really into it, and the atmosphere was just electric in here tonight. I told the girls in every single huddle we had, ‘you’ve got to be intense, this is your first step toward one of the goals we want to accomplish.”
“If you were a volleyball fan, this was a great match to watch. Both teams competed hard and gave great effort, unfortunately, we just came up a little bit short,” added Swanton coach Kyle Borer. “I think in the end we played too passive and gave them to many opportunities to attack the ball. We got away from our game plan at times and it caught up to us.”
Serving was the key in the first set as three missed Bulldog serves combined with a pair of Haili Mossing aces, along with another from Sydney Northrup, helped boost the Vikes to a 16-10 lead.
However, the Bulldogs battled back to 17-15 on a pair of kills off Viking blockers from Claire Leidigh and another couple from sophomore Sidney Taylor.
But four straight offensive errors by Swanton regained a six point lead for the Vikes before Megan Floyd’s right side shot through a block and Eden Eisel’s athletic left-hand swat closed the set.
Two more kills, each from Leidigh and Taylor, a Leidigh ace, a Taylor slam off an overpass, and numerous Evergreen mistakes gave the Bulldogs a 16-10 lead in the second set, that Taylor closed out with a shot down the left sideline.
That loss broke a streak of 26 consecutive sets won by the Vikes in NWOAL play going back to Oct. 8, 2013, when they dropped a set to Swanton in a 3-1 match victory.
“The first set I felt we were in control the whole set,” said Wulf. “The second we were an entirely different team. We had ball handling errors, we were in the net, we were shades of last night (against Ayersville).”
Then came the set that would seemingly never end.
Leidigh’s blast off yet another Viking overpass and a double block kill by Cydney Christensen and Taylor gave Swanton an 8-4 lead.
Evergreen came back on an Alyssa Noe block and four consecutive Swanton attack errors to take the lead.
Swanton took a 13-11 lead on Julia Smith’s bullet from the middle, but the Vikes came back to tie at 15 courtesy of three kills from Mossing.
The set would be tied on the next three points before a controversial out call on a Leidigh kill attempt, Eisel’s kill from the middle and another Northrup ace gave Evergreen a 21-18 lead.
Back again came the Bulldogs on a service error, two Viking kill attempts that were both just out, and Smith’s second jam job at the net to go up 22-21.
A Swanton attack that went out tied the score but Smith gave the Dogs the lead again before Eisel countered with a fake right hand and tip left that found the floor.
After a net serve, Eisel again tied things up with another left hand tip, then Kaela Fauble and Kori Kreuz stuffed Leidigh at the net to give Evergreen a 25-24 lead.
This time it was Leidigh that countered, slamming an overpasses to tie the set and after a Swanton serving mistake, the 5-foot-9-inch senior drove a kill down the sideline and scored an ace to give the Dogs a 27-26 lead.
However, a hitting error gave the ball back to the Vikes, and Fauble drilled a shot off a blocker to give Evergreen the advantage.
Taylor knotted it up again with a two-hand push and after a Swanton kill attempt went out, it would be Leidigh and Taylor again off Evergreen blockers to give Swanton a 30-29 lead.
After a net violation on the Bulldogs, Taylor gave Swanton one last lead in the set, going off a Viking blocker again.
Eisel tied the set at 31, driving a shot down the middle before a Swanton shot went long and Lauren Overfield’s driving serve couldn’t be returned to end the set.
“Oh my gosh that game was a lot of fun. It was intense. It was exactly how volleyball should be played. Both teams were swinging and blocking. It was a great game regardless of who won or lost that game,” exclaimed Wulf.
Swanton showed their mettle in the fourth set and led by Leidigh’s five kills in that stanza, came back to claim a 25-22 victory.
“When I came and scouted them I was really focusing on her,” stated Wulf. “She still got her points, she still got her kills, she had some really really good swings down the line, and good hitters are going to get their kills.”
Evergreen took a 5-4 lead in the deciding set on a Fauble block kill but Swanton knotted it back up at 6-6 when Taylor got one from the left side.
Cece Silvestri, digging up a number of Swanton kill attempts, scooped up one more and Alyssa Noe swatted down a second ball kill and Mossing scored on a push and ace to give Evergreen a 9-6 lead.
“That is something we’ve been working on this year,” said Wulf of her setter’s pair of fifth set kills. “I wanted to take advantage in the fact that she can jump. She’s only 5’4” but she plays like she’s 5’9”. She had a great couple swings in that set that turned the set in our favor.”
A Fauble bomb from the middle, two kills from Eisel, and a block kill from Jamie VanLoocke held off the ‘Dogs at 13-9.
“Cece Silvestri stepped up, she’s a freshman we brought up from JV, Jamie VanLoocke came up and played outside and back row to us and both of them stepped up in big situations,” Wulf stated.
A net violation and an ace from Karah Kohlman closed the score to 14-12, forcing the Vikes to call timeout.
Then came the Viking crowd, which had at times made it sound like a Viking home game during the two and a half hour match, and Mossing sent them home happy when she got a perfect set from Noe and slammed a bullet through the back row to end the match.
“That student section, our crowd was there all night,” said Wulf. “They were great over there, and it really, really helped us in key times.”
“It’s tough to start out league play coming up short in this type of match, but we will bounce back,” concluded Borer.
The win was the 10th consecutive for the Vikings in the NWOAL, dating back to October of 2013 when they lost on the road at Archbold and shared the league title with the Blue Streaks.
The Vikings now return home to face Tinora in a non-league match tonight. Swanton hosts Delta tonight in another NWOAL match.
Joe Blystone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org