Center Grove’s volleyball team gave the home crowd its money’s worth Tuesday night.
The Trojans dug themselves a cavernous early hole against perennial power Avon, dropping the first two sets. But senior Ellen LeMasters and her teammates refused to be denied, storming back from the brink of defeat for a thrilling 11-25, 21-25, 25-22, 25-18, 18-16 triumph.
“I truly think it was just a mentality,” Center Grove coach Maggie Harbison said. “They were like, ‘We can do this, we can compete with them,’ and they turned it around.”
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The Orioles (0-1) pulled out to an early 8-4 lead in the decisive fifth set but helped leave the door ajar for Center Grove (2-0) with some untimely service errors, allowing the Trojans to tie the set at 10-10.
Avon then had a match point at 14-13, but LeMasters kept the comeback bid alive with a hard kill, and classmate Emma Jones eventually stuffed home the final point.
LeMasters finished the night with a team-high 18 kills, many of them coming at the most critical moments for her team.
“I was just telling MJ (Hammill), whenever I got that one kill, I was like, ‘Set me again,’” LeMasters said. “I want the ball; I want to put it away.”
Early on, it appeared that the only thing getting put away would be Center Grove.
The Trojans fell into a quick 7-0 ditch in the first set and never truly gained their footing, dropping the game by a 25-11 count. They then got behind 11-4 in the second before storming back behind the serves of Ellen LeMasters and Devynn Merriman to tie it at 12-12.
After eight consecutive deadlocks, the last at 19-19, the Orioles scored six of the next eight points to finish it, closing the set at 25-21 on a kill by Purdue recruit Jael Johnson.
“We just put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Harbison said of the team’s rough start. “We know Avon’s a really good team.”
Santina Schembra helped spark the Trojans early in the third set with an ace, and she added another midway through to give the host club a 15-12 lead. Center Grove stretched its advantage to 23-16 on a Graci Gasper kill and a Jones block, and after a brief Avon run tightened the score at 23-21, LeMasters came up with a pair of kills to force another game.
Another big kill by LeMasters keyed a four-point surge that put Center Grove up 15-10 in the fourth, and the Trojans were able to hold on to that lead, finishing off the set at 25-18 with kills down the stretch by Anna Line, Hammill and LeMasters.
Merriman finished with 16 digs and four aces for Center Grove.
Hammill said that Tuesday’s big win should provide the Trojans with an early confidence boost but cautioned against getting too excited too soon.
“It definitely helps us,” the sophomore setter said, “but we just know we have to keep working harder and harder, because teams are only going to get better from here.”