With each team coming off disappointing conference defeats, Cleveland and Corinth Holders met Tuesday night with both volleyball squad’s coaches wondering how they might respond.
After the Rams held off the Pirates in four sets (26-28, 25-18, 25-20, 25-22) in what is becoming a healthy rivalry, both coaches liked the fight and resolve shown in a back-and-forth match.
Cleveland, which fell a game behind Two Rivers 3A Conference leader Erwin Triton after a five-set loss last week, was pushed to the brink by a pesky Corinth Holders team set on putting forth a better effort than it did in a disappointing loss to South Johnston.
After the Pirates came from behind to win a marathon first set, 28-26, with Jamie Turner slamming home the winner on a free ball at the net, the Rams seemed to get a little bit sharper the rest of the way despite the emotional energy spent.
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Cleveland built sizable leads in both the second and third sets but had to hold off late charges by the Pirates to carry a 2-1 lead into the fourth set.
That’s where the fatigue could have set in, but instead the Rams rose to the occasion winning several long rallies. During one such exchange, Alyssa Kinney and Brittany Preston dove on the floor to keep the ball in play on successive touches. The digs allowed Hannah Adams to rush to the ground herself and fling the ball backwards for what ultimately turned into a point.
“I’m not going to forget that play,” Cleveland coach Shelley Johnston said. “That’s what we’ve been working on every day at practice is how to play with heart. Only if you’re playing with your heart and giving it 110 percent, that’s the only way you’re going to make those plays.”
Still, the Pirates held a 21-19 lead before the Rams ended the match on a 6-1 run that featured a pair of kills and a tip from Walli Driggers.
Driggers finished the match with 13 kills and Adams totaled 24 assists.
The Pirates (4-5, 1-2) were led by Turner and her 11 kills but also received solid contributions from Katelyn Leach (nine kills) and Haley Stancil (eight kills).
Samantha Payne added 14 digs for Corinth Holders while Kelly Ammons handed out 17 assists.
Despite a similar outcome to the four-set loss to South Johnston the week before, the Pirates limited a lot of the mistakes that plagued them during that match and demonstrated a more aggressive style of play.
“The way we bounced back tonight from the other night is incredible,” said Corinth Holders coach Charles Riley. “I could not be prouder of the effort, the energy and the execution.
“I saw a team that was not going to give up, that was not going to give in and that was going to fight until the very end.”
Johnston often resorted to calling timeouts to stem the momentum built by the Pirates’ late-game rallies, and the Rams responded to what their coach had to say.
Immediately following Cleveland timeouts, the Rams went on a 9-1 run in the first game, a 12-2 streak in the third and the 6-1 run at the end of the fourth set.
“A lot of times, I think our team’s biggest weakness is their mental game,” Johnston said. “I feel like if I can gather them back together to remind them that it’s the mental game beating them and not the physical mistakes, they’re learning how to get that back together.”
Despite the loss, Riley congratulated his team for its show of heart, predicting great results for the rest of the season so long as his players continue to play at the same level.
“I told them to embrace this rivalry because this is fun; this is good volleyball,” Riley said. “I thought between Cleveland’s tough attack and our fight and defense and attacking them back, it was fun to be a part of tonight.”