MOUNT CARMEL -- Wabash Valley College overcame a rough first set to best Lincoln Trail in five sets (16-25, 29-27, 25-17, 19-25, 15-12), improving to 4-7 on the season and 2-1 in Great Rivers Athletic Conference play on Monday night at Wabash Valley College.
The first set went as poorly as it possibly could have for the Lady Warriors (4-7), who out of the gate weren't playing bad, but that changed once the score reached 6-6.
Lincoln Trail (4-5) used a 15-1 run to blow the set wide open, gashing the Lady Warriors' energy and routing Wabash Valley in the set. The Lady Warriors would score some late points, but the devastating Lincoln Trail run provided enough separation for the first set victory.
"We didn't come out at all," Wabash Valley College Head Volleyball Coach Mark Colvin said. "We played really well this weekend, our games were high competition and then we come out and do that."
It was like an entirely different team showed up for the next couple sets however, as the Lady Warriors overcame their lethargic start.
After the two teams had battled for much of the second set, it appeared as if the Lady Warriors were set to escape with a crucial victory, holding a 24-22 advantage over their conference adversaries -- that is until Lincoln Trail rallied back. The Statesmen strung out three straight points, flipping the script and now putting Wabash Valley on the brink of a set point.
The Lady Warriors responded to the adversity nicely though, answering with a kill by sophomore Maddie Craig, a pair of kills by freshman Darian Barnard, and freshman Yoliann De Jesus-Tejedor closing the set with a kill at the net, handing the Lady Warriors a 29-27 second set victory.
Riding the momentum of the second set, the Lady Warriors seemed to be much more sure of themselves and playing with significantly more energy. Their defense was improved, their hitting and passing were much more sound, it was an overall improvement.
They used that to streak to a late 20-15 lead, and would use a kill by Craig, sophomore Felicity Elkin, Barnard, and a block by sophomore Andrea Andujar Mangual to close out the second set, seizing a 2-1 set lead in the match.
The Statesmen showed a sense of urgency in the fourth set, sensing they were now on the brink of elimination and it showed in their play.
Both teams were locked in another battle, with the score tied at 17-17 late in the set after the Statesmen had rallied to tie it up, trailing previously by as much as five and now forcing the Lady Warriors to call a timeout.
The break in action didn't cease Lincoln Trail's surge however, as the continued to impose their will late in the set, closing the set on a 11-2 run to force a fifth set between the two teams.
To open the fifth and final set the Lady Warriors received a big boost from freshman Alondra Martinez Melendez, who posed problems for the Lincoln Trail serve receive. She scored a pair of aces, and put Lincoln Trail in some tough spots in receiving, allowing the Lady Warriors to begin the shortened set in thunderous fashion. Barnard complemented Melendez' smooth serving with three kills of her own.
Body language wise you it was tough to conceive this was even the same match, as the drastic alteration between the first and fifth set was so drastic. From an absolutely drained and demoralized team, the Lady Warriors were now enthusiastic, feeling the potential victory in the air, with now a 7-0 lead.
Lincoln Trail rallied back to tie the set back at 8-8, but Wabash Valley remained focuses to the goal. They forced a couple Statesmen hitting erors, followed by a Mangual kill, a Lady Warriors block, a kill by De Jesus-Tejedor, setting for a match point with the score at 14-12 in Wabash Valley's favor.
Elkin scored the final point on the ensuing play with a kill, clinching a big five-set victory.
"Obviously we persevered, we got to the fifth game, start out 7-0, 8-0 would be unbelieveable, I'd love to go 8-0," Colvin spoke of the fifth set. "Then next thing you know it's 8-7. It was 7-1, then went 8-8. There was some rallies. Either way, obviously they could have won too. The ball was bouncing crazy stuff, it just went our way."
Colvin said the difference in the match proved to be his team's devotion to blocking at the net, which drastically improved for the better following the first set.
"What happened was we started blocking a little bit, we started getting some blocks," Colvin said. "Blocking in the women's game is supposed to be like fourth or fifth on the list, but for us I think it's a little higher. We got to blocking a little bit and those are always big. Then over pass, then finally pounded one back arm, taking advantage of that. Then they decided to finish it, it's just wow. We went five this weekend with Logan, then played four with VU and four with Walters. This is about our fourth fifth I think, we pretty much know the routine by now."
There were some interesting personnel moves in the match, including Melendez starting at libero in sophomore Abby Vaughan's stead. Colvin said it's a move they've made a couple times, just situationally in what they feel gives them the best chance to win. Vaughan would return at libero at the beginning of the third set.
As for injuries, sophomore Payton Sievers and freshman Valerie Ramos Allende were both out with injuries in the game. Sievers had suffered a concussion in pregame warmups in a prior game, but Colvin assured that Sievers would likely be ready to play later in the week.
The season's still young, but Colvin would like for his team to start to figure it out and find their groove as they near the midway mark of the year. They persevered through the grueling stretch they were faced with to begin the season, now they have to continue to improve as a team.
"I'd like for us to figure it out here. It's getting time for us to figure it out," Colvin said. "We started out -- everybody's tough -- but we started out with a grueling schedule. We played Logan, Mineral Area who didn't lose a game over there, then we played Logan again, VU again. We got a game from them, but it's time for us to start figuring it out. It's time. I'd like to know that we have it all the way, it's hard to do it in volleyball, just so many momentum swings, the people who figure it out more they're going to be more successful."
The Lady Warriors will return to action on Monday, Sept. 16 when they host Shawnee Community College at 6:30 p.m.