With first place and a possible NWOAL championship on the line, the Delta Panthers had two-time defending champion Evergreen on the brink of the precipice looking into the pit.
Then, down 2-1 in sets, and 19-13 in the fourth set, as if they received help from above, the Vikings went on a miraculous 12-0 run to grab a fourth set win, beating the stunned and previously unbeaten Panthers in set five to claim a 20-25, 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 15-11 victory before a large, raucous crowd at Evergreen to remain the only unbeaten team in NWOAL play.
“I told the girls this was going to be a battle and we’re going to have to fight for every point,” explained Viking coach Kelsey Wulf. “This was a big match with both teams undefeated and a lot of energy in the building. We finally got some consistency in that fourth set.”
Early on it was the Panthers who were the dominant team, scoring an eye-opening 21 points on kills or blocks in a first set win.
Jessi Davis started the onslaught with a redirect and a shot off a Viking block, then Miranda Pelland stuck a first ball kill and another from the right side to help the Panthers to an early 6-2 lead.
Evergreen got within 15-13 on a double block from Haili Mossing and Kaela Fauble, but Delta answered with four straight bullets from Mary Miller and Jenni Davis to grab a 19-13 lead.
Fauble’s push into the back right corner closed the gap to 21-18, but Jessi Davis answered from the left side and Pelland again scored off a Viking block attempt to end the first set.
“They played with a really high amount of intensity for that first set. More so than we did,” said Wulf. “We didn’t match their intensity at that point.”
Evergreen took an early lead in the second set thanks to Eden Eisel’s two-hand tip and a punch into no-man’s land from Kori Kreuz, but Madison Zimmerman nailed back-to-back aces and McKinsey Finnen scored from the left side to give the Panthers a 7-6 lead.
The Vikings regained a one point lead in a back-and-forth set when Rachael and Alyssa Noe sprawled for digs during a long rally that ended with Eisel again finding an open area with a push to put the Vikes up 10-9.
However, Jessi Davis again found the floor, first with a catch-and-carry over the net, then a booming shot from the middle, and sister Jenni scored through a block to give the Panthers a 16-15 lead.
Eisel swooped from above with an opposite hand kill to tie the score and Sydney Northrup scored from deep to give Evergreen a lead they didn’t let go.
Lauren Overfield followed with an ace, Alyssa Noe with a second ball kill and a Panther hitting error put the Vikings up 20-16.
A bad Viking pass and a bad set allowed Delta to close to 22-20, but Eisel swatted a kill from the middle, then tipped right and pushed left to end the set.
Evergreen stormed out to a 15-9 third set lead as Eisel scored five times on three rifle shots from the middle, a tip slam off an overpass and a left hand redirect, but just that quick the Panthers recovered with a 10-0 salvo to take the lead.
Finnen’s crossing shot, a bad Viking pass, back-to-back kills from Jenni Davis, Pelland’s shot from the right side, two straight aces from Finnen, two overpasses by the Vikings and Jessi Davis’ kill put the Panthers on top 19-15.
Three straight hitting errors and a shanked Viking serve ended the third set.
“Our serve receive was really off tonight. That was definitely the weakest part of our game and they had some really good servers and they took advantage in the third set,” explained Wulf.
The fourth set started the same way the third ended as the Davis sisters combined for six points, Pelland scored an ace, and Miller scored from the middle in between three Evergreen net or midline violations to take a 15-8 lead.
Eisel and Mossing combined for four kills, but Davis and Finnen countered for Delta and another serve into the net forced Wulf to call her last timeout, down 19-13.
“After I called another timeout, I told them it’s up to you guys. I told them you’ve been down by greater deficits than this before. We just had to chip away one point at a time.”
And like they were on the wings of angels, the Vikings began to fly, soaring on a huge run.
Mossing scored through a Panther block, Fauble stuffed Jessi Davis at the net, Overfield, whose missed serve ended set three, got some redemption by sticking an ace to bring the Vikings within 19-16.
Alyssa Noe scored on a second ball kill, a Delta net violation and Fauble’s second solo block tied the score before Mossing’s shot out of the middle gave the Vikes the lead.
Alyssa Noe drilled another second ball for a point, and Overfield aced a serve to make it 22-19.
With momentum and a very vocal Viking crowd on their side, Fauble scored with her left and off a block, and Mossing hammered one home from the middle to bring the Vikings from the verge of a match loss to a fourth set win that forced a deciding fifth.
“For a while we had taken charge and they had to react to us,” explained Panther coach Kelly Finnen. “Then, in the middle of that set, we were still in charge and they took it away and we had to react to them. They wanted it and they weren’t going to let us deny them. Our team has to figure out a way to push through that, we’ve jumped on a lot of teams this year and we kind of relax. We have to push through that and be more consistent.”
“We got on a roll that was just unreal,” Wulf said of the Vikings 12-0 blast. “Lauren Overfield got a couple aces and everything really (got) going. Up to that point we had been really inconsistent and we found our consistency.”
In the fifth set the Vikings found offense from an unexpected source.
Sophomore Jamie VanLoocke, who plays mostly JV, hit a shot from the side that rode the length of the net before falling safely on the Panther side to give Evergreen an early lead.
Alyssa Noe’s ace bumped it to 3-0 before Delta responded when Jessi Davis scored from the middle and Finnen marked an ace that chopped the lead to 3-2.
Evergreen regained control when Eisel elevated and flew in for a resounding slam, Mossing smoked a right to left kill and scored from the left side, and Eisel nailed consecutive aces to put the Vikings ahead 9-4.
“Eden really was unbelievable tonight. The first two sets she scored a lot of her points on a variety of tips because we had talked about the spots that were open,” explained Wulf. “Then, when they started covering tips, I said we have to go back to what we do best and start swinging, and she rattled off some points and got the intensity back on our side.”
Miller scored from the right and on a solo block for Delta, and after the teams traded attacks that went out, VanLoocke came through again, scoring off a Delta block from the left to put the Vikings back ahead by five, 13-8.
Two Viking balls into the net and another that went out around an Eisel tip made it 14-11, but after a long rally, VanLoocke’s shot again from the left went off a Panther and found wood ending the match.
“They weren’t dominating kills,” Wulf said of VanLoocke. “But the ball rolled and fell the right way. She really came through in the clutch.”
Evergreen stands at 5-0 in the NWOAL (13-1 overall), now in sole possession of first place.
The Panthers have one league loss and are 13-5 on the season.
Joe Blystone can be reached at email@example.com