Falcons escape Tigers in five-set tiebreaker victory

LANGLEY — This South Whidbey volleyball squad is no Cinderella.

LANGLEY — This South Whidbey volleyball squad is no Cinderella.

Sure, the Falcons have a couple of come-from-behind wins like Thursday night’s five-set tiebreaker victory against the Granite Falls Tigers. But this Falcon team just can’t seem to sweep.

South Whidbey cruised in the first set and seemed poised for a short match against Granite Falls (3-4 Cascade Conference; 3-4 overall). Then the Falcons fell silent on the court and struggled to cleanly pass while the Tigers shored up their defense and limited their errors to win the second and third sets.

Finally, the Falcons found some rhythm, rallied in the fourth set and ran away in the fifth to win the match. After winning the final point, the Falcons (3-4 Cascade Conference; 3-5 overall) looked more relieved than thrilled with victory.

“We’re pretty thrilled,” said Falcon junior Mackenzie Hezel. “I think we’re just tired. We’re just glad that those five games finally paid off.”

“I don’t know why we do that. A win is a win.”

The Falcons may be exhausted. Last week, South Whidbey played three five-set matches in five days, then hosted a 16-team tournament Saturday and played five shortened best-of-three matches. A pair of starters, senior Hannah Calderwood and sophomore Anne Madsen, were battling illness this week, too.

“It’s hard to give 110 percent when you’re not feeling great,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones.

South Whidbey looked like it was in control and ready for its first three-game sweep in two weeks. The Falcons jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and the Turks never came within three points of the lead again as South Whidbey won the first set 25-16.

“As long as we held onto the ball and kept serving, we were fine,” Jones said.

Granite Falls took an early lead in the second set, 13-8. South Whidbey crept back and tied the set 14-14 on a block and a kill by sophomore hitter Abby Hodson, who totaled eight kills, two blocks and two aces. Falcon junior hitter Carlee Mills aced her serve and senior hitter Aly Chapman scored a kill for the Falcons’ first lead, 16-14. Then errors, six in a row, mounted against South Whidbey and put Granite Falls ahead 20-16 before Jones called a timeout.

“Our passes were tight and we couldn’t get them over the net,” Jones said. “It’s coming out of nowhere. We practice serve-receive all the time, every practice. I don’t know what it is.”

A little rest and regrouping looked like it worked. The Falcons scored the next two points on a kill by Chapman and an ace by Anne Madsen, who finished the night with five. Errors persisted for South Whidbey, including a missed dig on a simple pass by Tiger setter Kimmy Martinez, as Granite Falls pulled away 25-19.

The frustration of losing the second set put South Whidbey in a funk to start the third. The Falcons opened with four errors before Mills dropped a tip pass over the Tiger blockers. Granite Falls led 8-3 before Falcon senior hitter Hannah Calderwood led a five-point run with a block and a kill to tie at 8-8. From there, the two teams traded the lead seven times, when Calderwood’s kill put the Falcons ahead 23-22. Tiger sophomore setter Miranda Prausa dropped a tip past the Falcons to tie 23-23, and back-to-back Falcon errors cost them the third set 25-23.

“When we got a good pass in, we could not put the ball down to save our lives,” said Falcon junior setter Meagan Longdon, who tallied 29 assists, five aces and two kills.

Granite Falls was poised to win and secure a winning conference record in the fourth set. The Tigers roared to a 5-1 lead on three aces, including two by Prausa who finished the match with 16 assists and six aces.

There was some fight left in the Falcons, however. South Whidbey went on a 7-1 run to pull ahead 8-6, capped by back-to-back Hodson kills and consecutive Madsen aces. The Tigers weathered the storm and waited for the Falcons to make mistakes, which they did on three straight points to return the lead to Granite Falls at 10-8. South Whidbey regained the lead at 17-16, and held on to win 25-20 and force a tiebreaker.

“Once we got on, we were fine,” Longdon said.

Granite Falls won the first point on a Prausa ace, but gave away its serve on a hit into the net. Hezel scored a kill — one of two in the fifth set — for the Falcon lead, and South Whidbey ran away to a 15-6 victory. The Tigers lost six points on errors, and the Falcons relied on two kills and a block by Calderwood to seal the match.

“My hitting was just on. I’ve worked as hard as I can in practice and tonight it paid off,” Hezel said.

South Whidbey recovered from a 3-2 loss to Archbishop Murphy on Tuesday in Everett. The five-set tiebreaker Thursday puts the Falcons’ two-week set total at 25.