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Falcon volleyball rebounds, repels Turks in tiebreaker
LANGLEY — A little superstition paid off big for the South Whidbey volleyball team.
With weary legs after a fifth-set tiebreaker two days earlier, the Falcons rebounded to beat the Sultan Turks in five sets Thursday. The victory was not a given, as South Whidbey dropped the first and fourth sets, leading the Falcons to feel a sense of deja vu. Victory, Falcon head coach Mandy Jones said, was thanks to some lineup changes and new seating assignments (no lucky socks or rabbit feet).
“I’m such a superstitious person that we made some changes about where we were sitting on the bench,” Jones said.
Four sets into the match, South Whidbey finally found its offensive rhythm. This time, the Falcons finished the match with a dominating 15-4 tiebreaker to end a two-hour match.
“Coming into tonight I just wanted to win, and I’m really happy that we did,” said Falcon sophomore Abby Hodson.
Jones changed her lineup, inserting junior Chantel Brown at libero. Jones said she needed Brown’s defense, which the junior provided to the tune of 18 digs.
“I thought she did a great job back there,” Jones said of Brown. “The problem is Amelia (Weeks) is also a great passer. But everybody can pass the ball, it’s just a matter of getting back to the basics and not getting riled up or nervous.”
From the start, the two Cascade Conference teams traded the lead, with five ties in the first set. Sultan (0-5 Cascade Conference; 1-5 overall) pulled ahead 23-18 on an ace by junior libero Breanna Sangder, the Turks’ largest lead of the set.
“It was a little bit frustrating because we were so close and we already fought this hard,” said Falcon junior setter Meagan Longdon.
“I think that it took us longer than it needed to be to connect with one another and get up to the momentum of the game.”
Three straight kills pulled South Whidbey within two points at 23-21, when Turk head coach Sarita Whitmire-Skeith called a timeout. It worked, as sophomore hitter Anne Madsen served low into the net, a rare missed serve compared to the Falcon’s four aces. Sultan sealed the set with a short tip, 25-21.
Limiting mistakes was crucial to the Falcons’ quick turnaround. Against Lakewood on Tuesday, South Whidbey committed 59 errors and missed 20 serves. During practice Wednesday, Jones showed her team those figures, hoping that once the Falcons saw the volume, they would be compelled to change the trend. The Falcons cut their serving faults in half, missing nine serves against the Turks.
South Whidbey had to rally from a four-point deficit early in the second set. The Falcons rattled off five unanswered points on a Madsen tip, a block by sophomore Abby Hodson, an ace by Mackenzie Hezel, a Madsen block and a Turk error. The Falcon fans stomped and bellowed their rally cry: S, S, S, S-Dub during South Whidbey’s five-point run.
“Our theme tonight was passion because I don’t feel like we’re showing a lot of passion why we’re playing this sport,” Jones said.
“I told them ‘Talk is cheap; actions speak louder than words.’”
The Falcons fought off the Turks and extended their lead out to 17-11. The Turks scored four points, three on Falcon errors, before the Falcons put the set away at 25-20.
Momentum seemed to swing South Whidbey’s way in the third set. Sultan hung around, forcing six ties until South Whidbey broke the game open with five consecutive points to 21-16. Three Turk errors handed the Falcons a 2-1 edge in the match. For the Falcons, it was a positive turnaround from the Tuesday match when they struggled to finish points — an issue that was drilled during practice Wednesday.
Sultan outlasted South Whidbey in the fourth set. Tied at 13-13, the Turks pulled ahead six points, four of which were on Falcon errors. Jones saw old habits return to her players: poor communication, positioning and passing. And the Falcon players acknowledged the problems. The hitters were late to the sets, which led to net balls and long shots.
“I think it’s our passing and our communication, that’s what’s been missing,” said Longdon, who finished with 24 assists.
South Whidbey made a late push to recapture the lead. The Falcons chipped at the lead a point or two at a time, but couldn’t close the gap before Sultan won the set 25-21 and forced a tiebreaker. That funny feeling of reliving a moment crept back for Jones, and she was none too pleased.
“I thought I am not going to five and losing again. I can’t do it,” Jones said. “I knew if we could get the serve we could hold onto the lead.”
And the Falcons did just that. On the second point, Longdon dropped an ace for a 2-0 lead. Nerves rattled the Turks, who committed three errors, capped by an ace by Hezel, who also scored a team-high 16 kills, for a 6-1 lead. South Whidbey ran away with the fifth set, winning 15-4.