One method of exiting the postseason earlier than planned is to play a revenge-minded opponent.
In the case of Greenwood Christian Academy volleyball, Lutheran definitely qualified as such.
Still smarting over last season’s five-set loss to the Cougars in the title match of their own Class A sectional, the Saints flipped the script – as well as the emotions – with Saturday night’s 25-21, 25-14, 25-13 victory at Morristown.
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“They were gunning for us. And they probably played the best they’ve played this season,” Cougars coach Kayla Back said after watching her senior-dominated squad close the book on a superb 25-9 season.
“Hats off to them. It’s hard to win back-to-back.”
The first set alone featured 14 ties, which made it appear as if another five-setter could be in the works.
Lutheran jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the second set, and was leading 13-10 when senior libero Taylor Brown proceeded to serve seven consecutive points. GCA later produced a mini-surge of four straight points, but the Saints matched it to close out the set.
A similar scenario played out in the third. A 4-4 deadlock quickly became an 18-4 Lutheran lead with senior setter Kristen Simons serving the final 11 of the Saints’ 14 consecutive points.
Outside hitter Rylee Morris ended the match by delivering the final spike in what was an 11-kill performance by the 5-foot-11 junior.
Understanding her team’s wanting an opportunity to exact payback against GCA, 16th-year Lutheran coach Kathy Anderson preached calm.
“Our goal was to stay cool, calm and collected, and that’s what the girls have done all season,” said Anderson, whose squad returns to Morristown on Saturday for the regional. “It was all about ball control and staying calm.
“Last year put a fire in their belly. The girls worked hard all summer and all fall.”
Back said one aspect in which the Cougars were uncharacteristically off their game was in serving. She said her players are typically more aggressive than they were against Lutheran.
Earlier in the day, Greenwood Christian dominated Central Christian Academy in one semifinal, 25-12, 25-10, 25-7. The Saints rallied to defeat the host Yellow Jackets in four sets in the second semi.
Sierra Gilson and Grace Peters, two of five seniors on the Cougars’ roster – all of whom start – finished with eight and six kills, respectively. Freshman Izzy Reed also finished with six kills for Greenwood Christian Academy.
Also playing their last match for GCA were 5-10 middle hitter Sarah Mangan and twin sisters Aubrey and Lexi Odgers.
Asked to put into words what her seniors have meant to the program, Back had to take a moment to collect her emotions.
“Those five are the ones who are going to be looked at for years to come as this program continues to grow,” said a tearful Back, her voice breaking. “They’re always going to be very, very special.
“It’s going to take a long time for those five to be forgotten.”