PIONEER — After North Central earned the first six points of its volleyball match against Pettisville on Thursday night, it looked like the Eagles might make quick work of their opponents.
The reality was anything but quick, resulting in a back-and-forth, five-set marathon that saw each team go up by as many as eight points in a set only for their opponent to claw back within striking distance, resulting in long rallies and an endless fourth set that North Central won, 31-29. In the end, though, Pettisville got over its early struggles to outlast the Eagles, by scores of 22-25, 25-23, 25-22, 29-31, 15-12.
When his team went down, 6-0, early, Pettisville coach John Horning quickly called a timeout to stop the bleeding. Whatever he told his team worked, as the Blackbirds won eight of the next 10 points to tie the set.
“We talk about just taking it one point at a time,” Horning said. “There’s not a six-point play, so we just have to settle down and try to get the next one. … We’ve started slow before, but I like how we came back in the first half and made it competitive for sure.”
Pettisville eventually ended up dropping the first set, but the tone for the match was made clear: It was going to be a fight.
The one thing I’ve learned about our teams in the (Buckeye Border Conference): The BBC is tough this year,” North Central coach Stacy Roth said. “We’re all a bit scrappy. I expect the rest of the season to go point-for-point like tonight.”
Pettisville took the next two sets thanks to five kills from senior Ryeana Klopfenstein and two aces, one apiece for Mikayla Graber and Karsen Pursel.
The fourth set was a perfect microcosm for the match, as it had everything: long rallies accompanied by raucous crowd noise, points flying back and forth between the two teams and players sliding all over the court. The teams were tied at 24, needing two consecutive points to win the set, but they traded evenly over the next eight points.
Eventually, a Pettisville service error and a perfectly placed kill by North Central junior Kendee Hollstein gave the Eagles a 31-29 fourth-set win and forced a deciding fifth set.
Roth said her team has made endurance a focus, and she was happy to see it pay off in that third set.
“It’s something we’ve kind of struggled with in the past, but we work on endurance literally every day in practice,” she said. “We take a little pride in that. They work hard for that.”
Despite any momentum North Central carried in from that hard-fought fourth-set win, Pettisville edged out the fifth and final frame, 15-12, after a spike from senior Danielle King.
Horning said he appreciated his team’s passion and how hard his players worked for the win, especially after the Blackbirds dropped their last match against Hilltop, again in five sets.
“As a fan, I get it; it’s fun to watch and sit back and watch how girls are hustling and getting on the floor,” he said. “The momentum swings to whoever gets those points. But I don’t think we responded badly when we didn’t get those points. From a coach’s perspective, I’m glad to see the fight. Even on some points we didn’t get, I loved our hustle and our passion for the game.”
For Pettisville, Graber finished with 23 assists, and Klopfenstein led the way with 16 kills and 26 digs. Junior Xavia Borden chipped in with 17 assists.
North Central was led by 17 kills and 10 digs from Kendal Bonney. Madison Brown added 12 kills, 18 assists and 19 digs, while Lauren Balser chipped in with a team-high 21 assists. Kassidy Faler had 17 digs and four kills.
Both teams’ records now stand at 4-2, including 3-2 in the BBC.