The Cap-8 Conference opener between Heritage and Millbrook was precisely as close as the score indicated.
Down two sets entering the fourth, Heritage rallied back for a 3-2 (24-26, 26-24, 18-25, 25-19, 16-14) victory over the visitors Thursday night.
Heritage found itself down nine points in Set 3 and did not recover, but the Huskies rebounded with a 5-0 edge to start the next game.
“I just think we shook that game (Set 3) off and we came out with more energy and intensity,” senior setter Ellie Lupton said. She led the game with 37 assists. “We knew that we were better than what were playing the game before. We have a really tough conference. All the teams are good.
“We always have to know that and come out strong every game.”
The first-set tug-of-war painted an ongoing theme. No one led by more than two points, as Millbrook needed 26 to claim Set 1. In an evenly matched game repleted with attacks, it meant the little things mattered – all of them.
Unforced errors contributed to setbacks for both squads. A consecutive ball-handling error and attack error by Millbrook gave Heritage a 20-19 lead in the first set before senior outside hitter Hannah Midles’ kill danced off Millbrook fingers to cause a late tie. (Another one of her kills later ended Set 4 to force a final.)
Back-to-back Huskies errors gave Millbrook a 16-14 lead in Set 2.
Ultimately, a final Millbrook miscue handed the Huskies the win.
“Errors played a lot (into the loss),” Millbrook coach Julee Dickens said. “We had great play, a lot of good plays, but we just weren’t able to capture the moments that we needed to finish those wins when we had the opportunities. You have to take them when they’re there for you, and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Midles and Lupton brought the heat to claim some of the last few points of the close match. They hooked up six times in the final set, as the Wildcats clawed back from a 19-10 deficit. Midles led the game with 21 kills.
“Me and Ellie have been playing with each other a while now,” Midles said. “We know each other’s highs and low, and we know how to pick each other up.”
Three who mattered
Lupton, Heritage: Not only did she have the vision to place the ball, she had 16 digs, four aces and three kills for good measure. In the fast-swinging contest, the senior captain had to decide quickly what would be the best touch.
Fatou Small, Heritage: The junior right side helped maintain key plays for the Huskies throughout the night, including a dig that led to the set-claiming point at the end of two.
Morgan Florini, Millbrook: In her first game back in three weeks, the senior defensive specialist led the game with 26 significant digs, often battling the dominating swings from Midles.
They said it
Heritage coach Jessica Furlough on the caliber of Cap-8 competition: “If this is how it’s going to be, I’m going to be gray-haired and wrinkled and stressed out with a heart condition toward the middle of the season.”
The home team’s creativity. Against an opponent unafraid to battle attacks, Heritage had to improvise down the final few points. The Huskies widened their range, proved when junior Gabby Joy sent a kill into a tiny crevice in the corner of the back row in the final set. Millbrook didn’t suspect it after a majority of attacks on the back row fell much closer.
“You really had to start being creative about where to put the ball,” Furlough said. “It’s not just ‘Oh, I’m going to hit a line shot or a cross.’ You had to be strategic in where you’re putting the ball, and so it pushed each team to push their game harder.”
Millbrook setter Megan Alvey captured a 24-24 tie in Set 2. The hot hitter was ready to go on the next play, only Heritage’s Small rolled into a dig to prevent the Wildcat point. A nearby Lupton set up Joy, who finished the job.
By the numbers
4: Consecutive digs Heritage had down the stretch of Set 2.
6: Points Lupton and Midles connected for in the final set.
183: Digs from both teams combined in a high-attack game. “Both teams hit a lot,” Furlough said.
Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan