Lady Titans rally in tournament with four big wins

Set to host home stretch

At volleyball practices last week, coaches and players discussed the intensity of the season. The Titans play 11 of 19 matches on three Saturdays. The schedule does not allow for any “bad” Saturdays. Last Saturday started at sunrise as the team followed the sunshine to Blanca, Colo. for the first of two league mini tournaments to play four league opponents. The Titans and the Holy Trinity Tigers met for the first match of the day. With several strong players, the Titans knew from last season the Tigers would provide a challenge. While not playing poorly, the Titans struggled to find a rhythm. The Titans put together some strong plays then would lose frustrating points when two players would start to go for a ball, only to let it drop between them at the last second. Junior Karleigh Dean was again up to the blocking challenge getting four blocks against their primary hitter. Those blocks seemed to get into the heads of all the Tiger hitters and they backed off their attacking. Senior Sydney Loyed put together five kills with junior Shannon Holleran following close behind with four kills. The Titans prevailed in three close sets, 25-23, 25-23 and 25-22.
After a quick lunch break, the Titans geared up for three straight matches. The second match was against the Aguilar Wildcats. The Wildcats always prove to be a scrappy team that will not quit and would fight and volley with the Titans. The Titans still struggled to pull together consistent play. As a storm blew through pounding on the metal roof, the Titans finally played with more confidence and consistency in the final set to close with a 25 -20, 25-17, 25-13 win.
The storms outside seemed to foreshadow the next match as the Titans dodged the puddles to the neighboring gym to compete in the final two matches of the day. Going into the day, the Titans knew the toughest match of the day would pit the Titans against the host team, the Sierra Grande Panthers. The matches with the Panthers have always proven to be tough. This match would be pivotal in league standings and district seating for both teams. Last year, the Panthers proved a solid consistent team that required opponents to play their best. With great passers and a very strong defensive specialist (a libero in volleyball terms) and a versatile setter they give every team nightmares. Last season the Titans won all three matches against the tough Panthers. Two of the matches were battles that took all the Titans had to scratch out two tough five-set matches.
The Titans jumped out in the first set aggressively. Shannon Holleran served a quick five straight against the Panthers forcing the Panthers to take an early time-out. In the time-out, the team discussed that the Panthers were not going to go away quietly and the Titans would need to stay alert and not let down. Unfortunately, the warning proved accurate; a set of lights blew from the storms outside, foreshadowing dark times ahead.
Electing to play on, the Titans were knocking on the door of a win with a 24-15 lead. The Panthers then proceeded to pull off what rarely happens in volleyball since the introduction of rally scoring, holding off 11 Titan set points to take the win the first set 26-24.
Needless to say, the Titans were in shock and in awe of what just happened. Devastated, they had three minutes to pull it together to start the second set of the match. The Panthers had taken the momentum and fired up the home crowd. The Titans needed to find some fortitude and toughen up immediately. They knew they had to get back on the court and take the momentum back and quiet the home crowd.
Each point was a mini-battle, with each team digging in and passing anything the other team sent over the net. The air crackled with electricity—whether from the storm outside or the energy in the gym, each point lasted minutes as players on both teams did everything possible to win each point.
In both the first and second sets, junior Shannon Holleran put together a string of strong serving, scoring 14 total points in the first two sets. In the match, senior Sydney Loyed had a record number of hitting attempts at 49 and 12 kills. The Titans took the second set 25-20 and evened the match at 1-1.
The third set proved no easier and the battle raged on with each point. Tight, tough volleyball matches are a thrill to watch—players diving to pick up hits and tips, swinging with all their might in hopes of finding a hole in the opponent’s defense, picking up tips and deflections off the block. The longest serving streak for either team in the third set was three points, demonstrating the tenacity of each team.
The Titans pulled to 24-23 on side out by the Panthers, before losing the serve back to tie the set at 24-24. The Panthers pulled ahead 25- 24 but the Titans won the serve back and pulled ahead one point on a tough serve by Sydney Jernigan. The Panthers battled back and served to a 27-26 lead before losing the serve back to the Titans at 27- 27. Karleigh Dean served and her team dug in and worked to pull ahead point 28-27. One more serve by Dean and another epic rally proved successful for the Titans as they won the third set 29-27, taking the lead two sets to one in the match.
The Titans knew they did not want to go a fifth set in the Panther’s home court. They knew there could be no letting up and would have to fight hard every point to take the fourth set. Then Titans pulled out their final mental trick of playing like they are the team that is behind on the scoreboard throughout the set. This trick challenged the Titans to make smart decisions and work to make every opportunity count. With a mix of hits, tips and some well-placed setter attacks by senior Hillari Spencer and junior Sydney Jernigan, the Titans pulled ahead 21-13.
Then the dark storm clouds started swirling and within a few minutes the Panthers had rallied back and the score was 22-18. The fear of what happened in the first set was like another player standing in the time-out huddle. The Titans stepped up to the challenge and pushed out the negative thoughts to win the final set and match 25-21.
Still, the Titans’ day was not over—the final match of the day against the Primero Bulldogs was set to begin in a matter of minutes. Resting some players, several other Titan players took the court ready to meet the challenge. The team did not want to work as hard as they did to beat the Panthers only to drop the final match of the day against the Bulldogs.
Senior and co-captain Ali Turner stepped in and provide calm leadership and served 11 points in three sets for the Titans. Sophomore Natalie Bowen stepped up with some solid passing to provide sophomores Skylar Kraatz and Toni Brown chances to hit. Junior Asya Stillo, sounding more like Maria Sharapova with each serve, nearly finished off the match with seven straight points and four aces as the Titans won the match in straight sets 25-17, 25-18 and 25-15.
The day was complete and the Titans improved their overall record to 6-2, pulling into second place behind Mountain Valley in the league standings. The second of two tough Saturdays was complete. The Titans battled the storms and were successful because they overcame tough mental challenges and pulled together as a team.
Next for the Titans is the start of a five-match home stand (the only home matches of the season)—back to back matches begin on Thursday, September 17 as Moffat brings their varsity team to take on the Titans at 5:30 p.m. Then on Friday, September 18 the Titans host Centennial with JV starting at 4 p.m. and varsity at 5:30 p.m.

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