Hilhi drops five-set thriller to St. Helens
What a match.
On a night that saw both teams appear to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the St. Helens Lions ultimately bested the Hillsboro Spartans in a five-set thriller Tuesday evening, Sept. 21, at Hillsboro High School.
The visiting Lions took the first two of what would be five sets, then watched the Spartans storm back to force a deciding fifth set, where the two teams jockeyed back-and-forth in a thrilling final stanza that led to the 25-19, 25-19, 21-25, 13-25, 15-13 St. Helens win.
"That took heart," St. Helens head coach Tom Ray said. "They could've folded after that fourth set, but they fought and I appreciated that."
Ray attributed much of his team's fight and success to senior outside hitter Karlee Webster and sophomore setter Ava Eib. Webster finished with 17 kills and six aces, the last of which came on the match's final point.
The coach said Webster leads the team both on and off the floor, and her ability to do so was evident when push came to shove in that final match-deciding set.
"She's like a coach on the floor out there for us," Ray said. "She has the right attitude and works with all the young girls at practice, and that work's paying off. It's really been great to see because she wasn't always like that in the past, but you saw that work and that attitude pay-off in that last set."
Eib â€“ who finished with three kills and five aces â€“ too was a rock throughout, making the right passes at the right times and doing the dirty work both in the front and back-end.
"Eva worked her butt off tonight," Ray said. "She was diving for balls, getting balls up that most people would let drop, so I was really pleased with her because this is just her second match."
Hillsboro head coach Suzan Hopman was â€“ obviously â€“ less pleased with the outcome, but was â€“ like Ray â€“ happy with how her girls responded to the adversity of falling behind two-sets-to-none. The Sparts struggled early returning service, but made an adjustment to their formation in the third set and appeared to right the ship prior to the fifth set defeat.
"It definitely wasn't our best game," Hopman said, "But I'm proud of how we responded and I saw some good things."
After dropping the first two sets, Hillsboro fought-off defeat in the third thanks in part to tidying-up their service return issue, but additionally thanks to the play of sophomore outside hitter Jaydn Puncochar and senior co-captain Skylar Rissel.
Rissel finished with 15 kills, while Puncochar too dazzled at the net, tallying 21 kills, more than half of which came with the Sparts trailing 2-0.
Hopman also noted the play of junior middle blocker Shaniyah "Niyah" Mina, who â€“ according to Hopman â€“ has only been playing volleyball for two weeks and came up with three kills and four big blocks, some of which came at very opportune times.
"She's still figuring stuff out for sure," the Hilhi coach said. "But she had some really nice blocks out there."
After coming back to take sets three and four, the momentum appeared to be on Hillsboro's side entering the deciding fifth set, and even more so after the Spartans took a 6-3 edge on a Kiki Webb kill. But the Lions responded with four straight points to take a 7-6 lead and from there the two teams see-sawed their way to a 13-13 tie before an unforced error and a Webster ace ended things in Charles Campbell Memorial Gymnasium.
The win was the first in just three played games for St. Helens, and Ray said it was good to get that first victory, but he knows they've got plenty of work to do going forward.
"We're going to enjoy this win, but then we need to get to work on some things," Ray said. "We missed some games due to COVID, so we've got some work to do and a lot of games coming up."
St. Helen's was led by Webster's 17 kills, while Ellie Austin added 8, Eib 3, Madison McDole 3, and Briana Holtz 2.
Hillsboro was led by Puncochar's 21 kills, while Rissel added 15, Mina 3, Webb 5, and Jessica Ramirez Mata 1.
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