RIDGWAY - The Elk County Catholic Lady Crusaders fought back from a 2-1 match deficit and a match point in the final set for a 3-2 (25-11, 23-25, 24-26, 25-14, 16-14) victory over Ridgway Tuesday night at Ridgway Area High School.
ECC won the first set but lost the next two to Ridgway, putting the Lady Elkers ahead entering the fourth set. The Lady Crusaders won the fourth set at 25-14 which set up the winner-take-all set.
"It was a very, very competitive match," Ridgway coach Janet Redmond said. "They were ready to come and play. We were too, it just came down to the last point. The girls can't hang their heads. It's been a great season, it's not over with yet. Two losses is not too bad for a season. Every one of these girls should be proud of how they played. That's the way volleyball goes."
The teams alternated the first eight points which left a 4-4 tie between the two teams. Elk County Catholic then scored four straight points to take an advantage as Jessie Ginther had a pair of kills and Taylor Schlimm pounded a kill for ECC.
Ridgway would answer with three straight points of their own, aided by a block from Nicole Breier.
The teams alternated the next four points to leave the score at 10-9, then Lexie Meholic added a kill for the Lady Crusaders. Katie Oknefski had a kill for the Lady Elkers and Meholic answered for ECC with another kill to push the lead to 12-10. Ridgway would add a point but Ginther would answer with another kill to put the Lady Crusaders two points from victory at 13-11.
Breier added two straight kills as Ridgway had critical points off the serve of Kiersten Woodford.
A net violation by Elk County Catholic put Ridgway at a 14-13 advantage and match point. But Anna VanErdeen added a kill from the front line to tie the set at 14. Schlimm put down another kill for the Lady Crusaders and VanErdeen served an ace to close out the victory for Elk County Catholic.
"We came out playing really well the first game," Elk County Catholic coach Diane Gies said. "The second and third games, I can't say we played bad but we had too many unforced errors. The fourth and the fifth game, we were able to eliminate those unforced errors and we played much better. We were able to keep the momentum and we played much better."
Gies said the team showed a great amount of resiliency throughout the match.
"For as young as we are, we have three seniors on the team and at any given time, we have a freshman, or a couple sophomores or a couple juniors out there, it bodes well to the hard work they've done all year," Gies said. "I told them if we continue to work hard, good things are going to happen for us when we need it to at the end of the season. This was a big win for us."
The Lady Crusaders came out strong to start the match and built an 8-1 lead. At 4-1, ECC libero Helen Danz served three straight aces and Meholic added a kill for the 7-point lead.
Ridgway would score four straight points, as Breier added a pair of kills and Oknefski served an ace. The Lady Crusaders would go on a 5-1 run which included three points in a row at 8-5 from a Meholic kill and two Ginther kills.
ECC would go on to take charge on the opening seat after the 13-6 lead as Ridgway would not draw any closer. Elk County Catholic closed the first set strong as a kill from Taylor DaCanal put ECC ahead 1-0 with a 25-11 opening win.
Ridgway flipped the script in the second set, as the Lady Elkers were the team to start with an 8-1 lead. At 4-1, Ellie Woodford served well and had an ace at 7-1.
Ridgway built the lead to 10-2 but the Lady Crusaders would bounce back and erased a 6-point deficit at 15-9 with a 6-0 run behind effective serving from Schlimm.
At 15-all, the teams alternated points before Ridgway would score six in a row overall to seemingly be on its way to squaring the match at 22-16.
Danz's serving for the Lady Crusaders helped for ECC again for five straight points to put the Ridgway down to just one at 22-21 and prompting a Ridgway timeout.
An Oknefski block put the Ridgway lead to 23-21 and a ball hit out by the Lady Crusaders had Ridgway up 24-21. Ginther poured in two kills for Elk County Catholic but a Breier slammed the door on the set and tied the match at one with a 25-23 victory.
"We caught on to how they were blocking, they were triple-blocking us," Redmond said. "We caught on to that. We started dinking them in the middle and placing balls. It came down to the wire and somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. It's too bad because both teams played tremendously well. We didn't have that many missed serves in five games, only eight serves."
Oknefski and Breier each had 15 kills. Thorwart had three kills and Sarah McClain had two. Redmond said her defense had a strong game and she credited Ellie Woodford for good tips to the corner in the front line.
"We had many, many saves that were tremendous," Redmond said. "They just fought tooth and nail. They're beaten up, they really played their hearts out. I couldn't be more proud of these girls. That's all you can ask as a coach."
Senior Erica Thorwart served five straight points to open the third set as Ridgway had an overall 7-1 lead. The Lady Elkers continued to have a strong lead for most of the set and had a 9-point edge at 16-7. Ridgway still led by seven points, 23-16, but the Lady Crusaders would score four straight to give themselves a chance at 23-20. An Oknefski kill put Ridgway up 24-20 and on the cusp of a 2-1 lead but a kill from Meholic kept the set alive. Elk County Catholic rallied to 24-23, then tied the set at 24 on a tip kill from Meholic. A net violation on ECC put Ridgway back up by one at 25-24 and Ridgway was able to close the set with another point to take a 2-1 lead at 26-24.
Fast starts were a key throughout the match and the Lady Crusaders had one in the fourth set, scoring 11 of the first 14 points. Ridgway rallied to cut the margin to 12-9. The Lady Elkers were as close as two at 14-12 before ECC closed the set with 11 of the last 13 points. The set was closed on an ace from Danz to tie the match at 25-14 and set up the final set. Gies credited the setting for being able to make the comeback.
"Our setter did a nice job of mixing up the offense," Gies said. "That tired their defense out. Their front line was tired in the fourth and fifth game and we utilized that tiredness to go outside. Our setter did a nice job of mixing up to keep them off-balance."
Gies said this victory will be a confidence booster for the Lady Crusaders.
"Ridgway is a quality program, Janet does a nice job down here," Gies said. "It's good to have this local competition and it's a friendly rivalry. We make each other better."
Both teams have one more match left in the regular season and then look to the playoffs which begin next week. Redmond said this was a good experience of what a playoff atmosphere could be like.
"This was a good trial test for us for playoffs," Redmond said. "We're going to come up against teams like this for playoffs down the road. This was our little training and they passed. It could have went either way, it just didn't fall our way."
ECC is scheduled to host Johnsonburg on Thursday night while Ridgway is scheduled to play at Sheffield. Junior varsity action is slated to start at 6 p.m. with varsity to follow.
Prior to the match, Ridgway honored its three seniors which are Emily Ames, Erica Thorwart and Nicole Breier.
"The seniors, I wish them the best of luck," Redmond said. "When they graduate and go on off to college, I've always said high school is about memories. These girls made many memories this year and fantastic ones. I'm just grateful to be a part of it. It really touches my heart."