Cleveland had an easy time with visiting Smithfield-Selma in their Two Rivers 3A conference volleyball opener on Tuesday.
But the Spartans had other ideas in the third set.
SSS came within a point of forcing a fourth game before coming up short as the Rams claimed a 25-16, 25-14, 28-26 victory.
The win improved Cleveland, which has a six-match winning streak going since a loss to 4A Athens Drive, to 8-1 in Shelley Johnston’s first year at the helm. The Spartans fell to 2-8. (Cleveland downed rival West Johnston, 25-21, 25-8, 18-25, 25-14 in volleyball on Monday.)
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“We’re progressing,” Johnston said. “They’re not quite at our level. We had our subs in in the third set. I wanted them to get playing time, and I didn’t want to put my starters in just to win a game. I wanted them to work through that.
“Even if we had lost the set, I wouldn’t have put them back in.”
SSS coach Chase Crocker said he was proud of the way his team clawed back after being dominated in the first two sets.
“We tried a different lineup and mixed a few things up in the final set,” said Crocker, whose team has only eight healthy players as senior Cassie Creech recovers from an injury. “We kind of clicked a little bit and got a spark.
“This team is good at battling to the end and I’m proud of them for that. We’re just still working on our chemistry. Cleveland is pretty daggone good. They’ve got some good servers and big hitters.”
The Spartans scored the first two points of the match with freshman Maya Anderson serving, but when the Rams broke serve it started a string of 10 straight points with Hannah Adams on the serve.
“I’ve been improving on my serve, but I still lost three,” said Adams, who had five aces in the early run and finished with eight on the day. “If I get it too high it’s going out, so I have to put some backspin on it.
“We just have to keep our spirits and our attitude up, no matter how a match is going.”
Cleveland never trailed in the second set, scoring the first five points with Adams on the serve. The Rams led 15-12 when libero Krista Haschke got the ball and produced eight straight points, including five aces.
“We started out strong, but we were struggling with our confidence in the third set,” Haschke said. “We had some subs in, but that shouldn’t have been an issue. We finally came back together at the end.
“Aces really get our team up, and when we get a few it seems to improve how we play overall.”
The third set produced all the drama. Cleveland led by as much as 16-6 early before the Spartans made their run, tying the score at 24-24 with Morgan Eatmon on the serve and taking a 26-25 advantage on Kayla Wakefield’s first serve. But the Rams scored the final three points to seal the decision.
“In the first and second set we weren’t so great, but in the third we put it to them and challenged them,” said the senior jump-server Eatmon. “We’ve just got to do a better job of getting the younger players pumped up.”