Cleveland hangs on to defeat Walker Valley

By RICHARD ROBERTS Sports Editor
Posted 9/6/17

It took some two hours and five sets against Walker Valley, but Cleveland was finally able to lay claim to the first-go-round county volleyball championship Tuesday night — barely.

The Lady …

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Cleveland hangs on to defeat Walker Valley

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It took some two hours and five sets against Walker Valley, but Cleveland was finally able to lay claim to the first-go-round county volleyball championship Tuesday night — barely.

The Lady Raiders and Lady Mustangs traded sets with Walker Valley pulling off a win in the opener 25-15 and again in Set 4 blasting to a 21-1 lead before finishing with a 25-11 win. Cleveland came out with victories of 25-11 and 25-23 in the second and third sets, and was able to hold off the Lady Mustangs in the tiebreaker by a score of 17-15 in the District 5-3A battle.

“I’m glad we won. I’m not exactly sure what happened in Set 4. There are no words. I’m proud the girls fought back and won,” said a befuddled Lady Raiders coach Trish Flowers after the battle that saw both teams take control on occasion. “I feel we give other teams so many points because of our mistakes that some teams don’t know what we’re capable of in some sets, because of their shots we play so bad.”

The Lady Raiders (12-0, 4-0 District 5-3A) were able to remain undefeated in district pay and claim the first-round unofficial county championship. Cleveland defeated Bradley Central in straight sets earlier in the season.

The loss did nothing to take away Lady Mustangs (12-7, 3-1) coach Judy Pruett’s satisfaction for the way her team stayed composed throughout the five-set battle.

“They played really hard,” she said. “It was kind of a back-and-forth roller coaster of who was playing up and who was playing down. We played hard the whole match.”

The night started out with the Lady Mustangs breaking a 12-12 tie in the first set with a Carly Buckner kill, the first point of a 7-0 run that gave Walker Valley a 19-12 lead. Cleveland hitter Emma Flowers, who finished the night with an astounding game-high 40 kills, made it 19-13. The Lady Mustangs finished out the set taking advantage of Cleveland mistakes to earn the 25-15 win.

Buckner led the way for the Lady Mustangs with 16 kills. Lemons came through with 12 for the Lady Mustangs.

The Lady Raiders returned the favor in the second set, using kills by Flowers, Nicole Glaser and Lilly Oliver, plus a 10-0 run, to sew up the 25-11 victory.

Game 3 was a battle that could have tilted either way.

Kills by Flowers, Glaser and Sofia Lakatosh put the Lady Raiders out front 8-4. Buckner and Macy Nipper led the way during a Lady Mustangs outburst that saw the visitors score seven straight points to catch and pass the hosts to garner a 13-10 advantage. Cleveland fought back to tie the set 15-15. The teams knotted the score four more times before an ace off the serve of Joy Douglas put the Lady Raiders on top 20-19. Hannah Grace Moore served up an ace for Walker Valley that cut the Cleveland lead to 23-22 before mistakes put the 25-23 win in the hands of the Lady Raiders.

Pruett said she reminded her girls during the between-game talk that whenever the opponent is Cleveland, no matter if it is inside “The Stable” at Walker Valley or the Raider Arena it is never going to be an easy task.

“I told them they were either going to come out fighting in this game (set four) or go home with a 3-1 loss. The girls came out and played a really good game. It was 21-1 before they started playing with us,” she recalled. “The girls got really pumped up and played well.”

Leading 2-1, the Lady Mustangs turned on the fight and blasted the Lady Raiders with18 unanswered points before Cleveland finally mounted a mild comeback to cut it to 22-8. Aly Grace Lemons made it 23-8 with a kill then served up an ace to add another point before a Cleveland error minutes later gave the Lady Mustangs the win.

“There are no words for what happened in Set 4. For a moment I thought it was the worst set in my coaching career at this high school,” said the Cleveland coach.

Flowers decided a mid-set recollection of a fifth-set loss several years ago to Bradley — after being up 10-0 — trumped Tuesday’s fourth set blowout.

The tiebreaker opened with Cleveland’s Flowers and Walker Valley’s Lemons powering their teams to a 4-4 tie. The Lady Mustangs eased out front 6-4, but the Lady Raiders roared back with kills from Anna Renshaw, Flowers and Glaser to take an 8-6 lead. Cleveland added four more points to break a 9-9 tie and open a 13-9 cushion. The Lady Mustangs flattened the cushion with two aces from Anna Grace Jackson to knot the score 14-all. The Lady Mustangs took a 15-14 lead when the Lady Raiders lost a point due to a rotation violation. Oliver made up for the mistake with a bock and Glaser picked up another kill to put Cleveland out front 16-15. A Walker Valley shot that landed out of bounds sealed the win for the Lady Raiders, 17-15.

“The fifth game was really anybody’s game. It was back-and-forth all game,” said Pruett. “We had a chance to win at the end. We had to fight to come back to tie it. I was proud of the girls. I’m very proud of them for fighting to the very end.”

Flowers said she was glad the Lady Raiders continue to fight through less than stellar play at times but added much work is needed to solidify several weak areas.

“They fought and finally pulled together,” she said. “Our chemistry is really spotty right now. They are all good friends, we’re not having any issues like that. We’re just struggling to find our chemistry. We have a lot of inexperience on the court. We’ve got to get everybody on the same page.

“We have to decide if we want to win and do what it takes to win, even if it takes sacrificing how many touches we get until it comes time to take the shot. I really feel like that’s a big issue we need to embrace. We’re going to keep chipping away and see what happens.”

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