Times Sports Editor
MARTINSVILLE -- When the final point hit the floor at the Martinsville volleyball sectional on Saturday night, there probably wasn't a nerve that wasn't frazzled and more than a few likely gained some gray hairs after the action had ended. However, only one team got to ride home with the championship hardware and it was the Northview Knights, who battled as hard as any one team should have to take the program's first sectional title since 1996.
After coming back from a two-games-to-none deficit in the semifinal against Terre Haute South on Saturday afternoon, the Knights apparently liked the dramatics and fell behind to Terre Haute North by two games as well. Much like they had earlier in the day, the Knights gathered themselves and saved their best play for the final three games in claiming a 21-25, 23-25, 25-10, 25-22, 15-9 victory and a sectional title with it.
Coach Scott McDonald echoed many fans' sentiments that his team could have saved the drama in winning the title.
"I've had enough drama for one day," McDonald joked afterwards. "We thought coming in, that if we just play fundamental volleyball we'd be fine, but (Terre Haute) North battled well the first three games. It was pretty much the same thing as this morning, you just have to find out how much you want to win."
In the opening two games the Knights struggled to contain 6'2 North senior, Sara Baugh, who had three kills and five blocks in the first two games from her middle spot. Mary Kate Etling also provided six kills for the Patriots and Northview had some service problems that put them in a hole according to McDonald.
Falling behind by two games, apparently the Knights had the Patriots right where they wanted them as both McDonald and his players credited their own conditioning for the strong play down the stretch.
"It was crazy, we were down two games to zero and I thought we had lost it, but all the seniors got together and talked and said 'if we want this in our last years as seniors we have to do it,' and we went out there with our heads up and we passed and did what we do best," senior Ali Sharton said. "We like when the crowd is fired up and we're in shape, (coach) Mac(Donald) makes us run a lot so we knew we were in shape."
"I thought if we could win that third game handily, we could steal the fourth game," McDonald added. "I thought (North) started getting tired. (Mary Kate) Etling being out with an injury for awhile, she started laboring a little bit. We held on and kept fighting and fighting, I mean talk about an emotional rollercoaster. I mean that was incredible."
In the fourth game, the service game also gave the Knights the edge after the score was knotted at 10-all, with Clark back at the service line, she had three more aces around a kill by Long to build the advantage to 17-10 after a hitting error by Baugh. The Patriots crept a bit closer on a kill by Etling and another by Katlyn Anderson to get within 19-15, but a kill and a block by Riddell pushed the gap back to 22-17. North outside hitter, Brianna Hill had two kills to get the Patriots within 24-20 and a block and a tip by Baugh narrowed the lead to 24-22, but Kathryn Behnke's serve found the net and the Knights evened the match.
In the final game of the match, the Knights simply rode the momentum, going up 5-2 on a kill by Long and another from Hannah Hayes, which found the line. Solomon added another and Riddell had three more as the lead grew to 9-4. With Hayes serving, an ace and two hitting errors built a 12-4 lead and Emmert's blast pushed the game to the brink and a kill by Riddell finished the job.
With a second fifth-game win of the day under their belt, Northview's Long said her teammates thrived on the pressure that isn't always there in the regular season.
"Honestly I think we like to give ourselves a challenge. We play teams that aren't really a challenge for us sometimes, but just getting ourselves down and working our way back up really gives us a thrill," Long said. "(The conditioning) paid off 100-percent, you better believe it. It's amazing. This means more than anything. I think we all just gave our hearts to her and we wanted to win this for her."
Long was referring to teammate Alyssa Clarke, who tore her ACL in the opening round game against Plainfield, not surprisingly, another five-game win. But Clarke's teammates echoed the sentiment that this sectional win was for her.
"It's amazing for (Alyssa Clarke). It was so hard losing her, but we adjusted and we're together as a team, as sisters and we wanted to do this for her," Sharton said. "It was really hard, she knew that we wanted this really bad and it was amazing to do this."
A fellow senior, Solomon agreed with her teammates.
"It sucked to lose (Alyssa), but I guess the fact that I played for her and the family, I think that pushed me to play that much harder. It's amazing and I don't think this is a memory that I'll ever forget," Solomon said.
"I tell you what, it feels great for these kids," McDonald said. "The fact that they didn't quit and a lot of people didn't give them a chance. It just shows the character of them individually and this is a community victory for our volleyball family. You know the Lottie King's, the Kyler Clark's the Kaley Huffman's and all of those kids, who put Northview volleyball on the map. This is about them too."
The Knights advance to the Seymour Regional on Saturday where they face Floyd Central at 11 a.m.
Northview 21 23 25 25 15
T.H. North 25 25 10 22 9
Next match: Northview travels to the Seymour Regional on Saturday to face Floyd Central at 11 a.m.