Wolves win as New London comeback falls short
WINFIELD — Winfield-Mt. Union was at match point in game three, but it wasn’t until game five that Wolves would seal their regional volleyball victory against Class 1A No. 12 New London.
The Tigers rallied for a comeback more than once in the Tuesday night match, but ultimately fell to the Wolves, 3-2.
W-MU claimed the first two games of the match on their home court by scores of 25-20 and 25-22.
The Wolves ran out to a 19-10 lead in game one, forcing New London to call time out and regroup.
The Tigers, who defeated the Wolves twice in the regular season, made a comeback to close that gap but never got closer than four points.
Game two went much the same way. The teams were locked in an intense battle at the beginning, and the first seven points of the set came from kills. Tall and aggressive, the Wolves had the advantage in the spiking spree, and they went up 5-2.
Later in the game, W-MU stretched that lead to 17-7 with help from three consecutive kills from Shelby Therme, who finished with a team-high 22 kills on the night.
But the Tigers didn’t give up. They fought back, once again mounting a comeback — and even getting within one point at 23-22 — before W-MU finished the game with one kill by Nicole Escher and another by Emily Mathews.
Poised for a sweep, the Wolves took an early lead in game three and held on to it through nearly the whole set. Alicia Escher recorded a kill that put the Wolves up, 24-20 — just one point away from ending the match.
But New London wasn’t ready for its season to end.
“In the first two games, we were slow; we couldn’t stop their offense,” New London’s senior middle hitter, Koral Crossett, said. “We all got a little edgy (in game three). We started tearing up and realized it’s now or never.”
The Tigers’ season motto was “The will to win comes from within.” The New London team dug deep and found that will to win in game three.
Morgan Christner had a kill that gave the Tigers the ball back. That was followed by a Crossett block, an Emily Parks kill and a Crossett kill that tied the game at 24.
Another kill by Parks gave New London the lead at 25-24, and W-MU misplayed the ball to give New London the win.
In the fourth game, it was the Tiger team that ran away with an early lead, going up by as many as eight points at 14-6.
“We took them out of their offense, especially in game four,” Heath said. “I’m proud of our comeback — the kids didn’t want it to be over.”
The Tigers held on to the lead through the end, as a Crossett kill evened the match at two sets each and pushed the teams to game five.
The match was New London’s first five-set match of the season and it was the second for W-MU.
Neither team could say that the fifth game was unexpected; in fact, both coaches had been preparing their players for a long night.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” W-MU Coach Dave Pieart said, and New London Coach Maureen Heath echoed the sentiment.
“We knew it would be like that, with everything on the line,” she said.
The fifth game was reminiscent of the first two.
W-MU jumped out to a huge lead, going up by a score of 8-1 after three Therme kills, one kill by Erica Robison, ace serves by Anna Crawford and Layne Davis and a block by Nicole Escher.
“Everybody had their moments,” Pieart said. “When we needed a good pass, somebody came up with it. When we needed a kill, somebody came up with it.”
But, just like it had been doing all night, New London mounted a comeback.
“The key was us not getting frustrated or getting scared, but instead collecting ourselves and refocusing,” Pieart said. “I’ve got to give New London credit — they do not give up, they kept coming back. We had good starts in games one, two and five, and each time, they came back.”
The Tigers pulled within three points at 11-8, taking advantage of a couple W-MU errors.
But this time, the Wolves wouldn’t be overtaken.
“We weren’t giving up, but fighting through every point, fighting through every mistake,” Crawford said. “We knew we wanted to win. None of the seniors wanted it to be our last game.”
The teams went back and forth, but New London couldn’t quite catch up, and the Wolves claimed a 15-11 win.
“We tried to pull it out, we just fell a little short,” Crossett said.
The loss to W-MU was the last high school game for Crossett, as well as for her fellow seniors, Taylor Landes and Caitlin Chiri.
“We have a lot of young players that stepped up; I couldn’t ask for more from them,” Crossett said. “We played hard all season — it was our goal to get 30 wins, and we accomplished that.”
New London ended the season with a record of 30-11.
“(They all) had a great season, with 30 wins,” Heath said. “Tonight, Koral Crossett played well at the net; Emily Parks played her heart out. Caitlin Chiri did a good job digging the ball.”
On the night, Crossett had 24 kills, the highest total on either team. Parks added 17 kills and Jorgi Krieger had 10.
Sarah Holtkamp had 47 assists.
Crossett put up two blocks and Christner added one.
Chiri had 32 digs and Landes had 23. Holtkamp added 19 and Parks had 15 digs.
In serving, Chiri was a perfect 18-for-18 and Landes was 14-for-14; they had three aces apiece.
Holtkamp went 22-for-23 with four aces. Parks was 15-for-16 with one ace, and Ashley Davey was 15-for-17 with one ace.
For the Wolves, Robison had 18 kills and Alicia Escher had 17.
Katie Benson had 46 assists.
Nicole Escher put up four blocks; Mathews and Robison each added three.
Alicia Escher and Therme had 30 digs each, and Crawford added 19. Benson had 10.
In serving, Crawford was 21-for-22 with two aces, and Alicia Escher was 19-for-22 with two aces. Benson was a perfect 17-for-17 with one ace, and Layne Davis was 15-for-16 with one ace. Therme went 12-for-12.
W-MU is now 27-7 and will play Sigourney in Sigourney on Friday at 7 p.m. It is the first time W-MU has made it to the third round of regionals since 1997.
The Wolves have two practices to prepare for their next opponent; they haven’t yet talked about the game in practice.
“We’ve been keen on one game at a time,” Pieart said. “This (win over New London) was, by no means, a guarantee.”
Heath has a vote of confidence for the Wolves.
“They have a great team,” she said. “They’re going to give some people trouble down the road.”