Emma Longley gritted her teeth at the question.
The Cardinals Gibbons volleyball player was asked, “Might losing the first set of the year help the Crusaders in the long run in the state playoffs?”
Gibbons, the area’s No. 1-ranked team, remained unbeaten (16-0) with a 3-1 victory in the best-of-five match over No. 6 Apex (10-6) on Monday at the Cougars’ gym.
The Crusaders won 25-21 and 25-19 before Apex snapped their perfect streak with a 25-20 victory in the third game. Gibbons bounced back with a clinching 25-16 decision.
Longley debated in her mind an honest answer about the players wanting to win all 3-0 sweeps versus echoing head coach Logan Barber’s words to look at the big picture. Barber was standing nearby, so Langley went with the party line.
“Yeah, it is,” said the 6-foot-1 junior, who recorded 14 kills, as she forced a smile.
The veteran coach was a bit more expansive.
“The girls have been saying, ‘No dropped sets’ and things like that,” Barber said. “But the ultimate goal is to get to the state championship. What I cared about was if we were going to lose a set, how would they react? I couldn’t have been prouder with how they reacted. They put it behind them and did exactly what they needed to do.”
He’ll expect the same type reaction if Gibbons finds itself in a jam in the state playoffs.
“It was really competitive and match and one of the most exciting of the season,” Longley said. “I think we went out (for the fourth set) with a different mental focus and executed better.”
Briley Brind’Amour, a 6-1 junior, added 16 kills. Along with Longley and 5-11 junior Christine Merdes, Gibbons dominated play at the net.
Barber and Apex coach Emily Whitsett annually schedule their non-conference matches to prepare for the state playoffs. Gibbons is a perennial state champion with five NCHSAA 3A titles in a row and eight of the last nine.
Ally Beckman, a 5-10 senior, led Apex with 11 kills and Anna Patrick, a 5-8 senior, added 10 kills.
Apex actually led through the first game and as late as 18-16 before Gibbons rallied.
“Gibbons is a great team, and I was proud of the girls for the way they came out and fought,” Whitsett said. “In years past we came out slower, but they wanted it and fought them point for point. If anything, it will help us get ready for the playoffs.”
This was their second match of the year after Apex was a 3-0 victim earlier.
“Their girls never quit,” Barber said of Apex. “To be able to play a team this talented and this disciplined as we get ready to go into the playoffs is really important to us. The thing I like about playing Apex is the crowd is wonderful and it’s a great environment. Sometimes we run into teams that don’t give us much competition.”