North Marion pushes Corbett to brink in thrilling 3-2 loss
After two and a half hours, nearly five sets and more than 200 serves combined, the fate of the Tri-Valley Conference came down to who would be the first to score two points.
Corbett responded like they had all season, with determined confidence, punctuated by a game-winning kill from junior Mimi Tesulov that gave the Cardinals their first conference title since moving up to the 4A classification in 2012.
The No. 8 Cards (17-4, 10-0 Tri-Valley) held on to defeat the North Marion Huskies (17-6, 8-2) 3-2 (20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13) Wednesday evening at North Marion High School.
"It's my senior year, so it means a lot to me that we could push through and be first in league this year," Corbett's Hannah Bubna said. "It means so much. I'm just so overwhelmed with emotions. I just started crying when we won the point."
For the Huskies, the contest was a microcosm of missed opportunities that have hindered the team all season, but one that will not define their postseason as they prepare for the first round of the state playoffs, head coach Trevor Bodine said.
"It's just a matter of managing ourselves more than anything else. We've made so many unforced errors this year at critical times. It just kills us," Bodine said. "They're a good team, but we had them on the ropes. We were right there. Unfortunately, we just made errors at the wrong time."
Corbett's final two points were actually part of a four-point rally after Husky senior Katie Ensign's service ace put North Marion up 13-11 in the final set, prompting Cardinal coach Angela Davis to call time out and regroup her team.
"It was nerve-wracking," Bubna said. "She basically just tells us to calm down, and we have this game."
"I thought they served really tough, tougher than most teams we've played recently," Davis said. "We struggled on servicing a little bit, and that's normally where we're really solid."
But the Huskies' next serve went askew, giving the ball back to the Cardinals, who scored the next three points to finish the regular season undefeated in the Tri-Valley Conference and avoid a league-deciding tie-breaker game. Had North Marion won, the two teams would have split their regular-season series and finished with 9-1 league records, forcing a third game on Thursday night.
Last year, North Marion and Estacada finished tied with 9-1 records and were named co-champions, but due to rankings, the Huskies still had to play their first state playoff game on the road. As a result, the Tri-Valley coaches decided this year that any potential ties would be decided by a league playoff to determine the sole champion.
The contest was as close as expected between the top two teams in the conference, trading leads, points and momentum swings from game to game. The Huskies opened the night by storming back from a 13-9 deficit to score nine consecutive points en route to a 25-20 win. In both games this season between the two league rivals, the Huskies have won the opening salvo, the only times this season that Corbett has dropped its first set to a conference opponent.
"North Marion is a really strong team," Davis said. "They came ready to play."
The Cardinals answered back in the next set, opening with a 10-4 lead, only for the Huskies to make an 11-2 rally to take a 15-12 lead. Knotted at 19-19, Corbett took advantage of a North Marion error to take the lead for good and went on to win 25-22.
"Too many unforced errors," Bodine said. "The first time we played them, it was the same thing."
The third set, the Huskies opened with an 8-3 lead, but once again found themselves at the wrong end of a Cardinal rally. Much like the second set, the two teams were tied at 19-19 before the Cards took over, winning on a service ace by junior Payton Horvath.
North Marion had its strongest play of the night to open the fourth. With sophomore Mackenzie Agnew serving, the Huskies went on an 8-0 run that put the Cardinals on their heels, culminating in a powerful kill by Ensign to give her team its most significant lead of the night.
But Corbett gradually dug themselves back into the game, taking advantage of North Marion miscues to pull within 17-16 and 19-18 before a pair of their errors late in the set helped the Huskies tie the series at 2-2 with a 25-20 win.
"It wasn't our individual players' best night, but I think it's a reflection of their tenacity and perseverance," Davis said. "We've been pulling out games where we're not playing, but winning at the end."
The final set saw the Huskies again take the lead, thanks in part to a trio of service errors by the Cardinals, and one of several blocks on the night by Ensign to give North Marion a 10-6 lead. Corbett's Sammy Calderbank answered with a block at the net, and Horvath scored back-to-back aces to pull within 10-9.
Ensign responded with another block, but consecutive blocks by the Cardinals tied the game at 11-11. Another service error by Corbett and an ace from Ensign made it 13-11, setting the Cardinals up for their league-winning four-point rally.
"To not play well, but play all out with the plan of winning tonight and being league champs says a lot about my group," Davis said. "It was their big goal this year to finish as uncontested league champs."
As the top two teams in the league, both North Marion and Corbett await the results of the play-in round before hitting the court again on Saturday, Nov. 2.
As league champions, the Cardinals will host their first-round game, while the Huskies have a much tougher route.
"Now we likely go on the road and play a pretty highly ranked team, and we've beaten highly ranked teams before," Bodine said, referring to several pool play victories the Huskies have logged over top-ranked teams this season. "We have to be mentally stronger. We have the athletes and the talent. We just have to get out of our own way."
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