La Plata volleyball loses in five sets to Patuxent
Panthers rally to take final set
Perhaps it only seemed fitting that Monday’s fifthset tiebreaker between the Patuxent High School volleyball team and visiting La Plata would go beyond the typical 15 points necessary to decide it.
La Plata had won the opening set, 28-26, only to watch Patuxent win the next two sets, 25-11 and 25-22 before the Warriors forced the fifth set by taking the next set, 25-22.
With the fifth set tied at 15 after La Plata had earlier owned an 8-3 lead and had failed twice to claim match point, Patuxent libero Emma Poteet rotated back to serve and calmly delivered for the Panthers.
Poteet’s first serve came harmlessly back across and Panthers senior setter Alex Heist lofted the ball to middle hitter Jade McGrath for a 16-15 lead. Then after Poteet’s second serve was sent back over by the Warriors, Heist delivered the ball to senior outside hitter Kayleigh Murphy who tipped the ball into a vacancy just behind the La Plata front row for match point.
“It was stressful,” Poteet said of going back to serve with the fifth set tied at 15 and the outcome of the match hanging in the balance. “I just wanted to make sure I got it over and made them put it in play. I was looking at the same spot on both serves. When Jade got the kill in the middle I wasn’t quite as stressed for the second serve. Then Kayleigh came through with a tip.”
During a fourth set that was tied on seven different occasions and as late as 18-all, La Plata emerged victorious to force a fifth set as senior setter Ava Krahling got the ball to outside hitters Jayci Chamberlain and Kelsey Hanks for crucial points late that enabled the Warriors, who had wilted in the latter stages of the second and third sets, to persevere. In fact, with Hanks serving it was Chamberlain who delivered a Krahling set for the set-winning kill.
La Plata (8-2 overall) appeared to carry the momentum into the fifth set, racing to a 6-2 lead behind a pair of service aces from Krahling that forced Patuxent head coach Kevin Keller to use his first timeout, then with Chamberlain serving Krahling lofted the ball to her in the back row for a kill that gave the Warriors an 8-3 lead that forced Keller to use his second and final timeout.
“During that second timeout when it was 8-3, we just talked about getting back in it one point at a time,” Heist said. “We tried not to look at the score. We just wanted to keep making plays until we could find a way to come all the way back. Our serves were much better and I think that’s what finally made the difference.”
Coincidentally, it was a brief service run from Poteet that got the Panthers back in it and later service winners from Murphy and McGrath brought the Panthers even at 11 and one from Heist that included a kill from Jasmine Johnson off a Heist set, gave the Panthers their first lead of the set at 13-12. But La Plata drew even on a kill from Chamberlain off a Krahling set.
Then with Krahling serving the Warriors reached match point first courtesy of another Chamberlain kill off a set from Krahling. But Krahling’s next serve sailed deep, then Johnson’s next serve hit the net and Chamberlain served for match point only to watch a kill attempt from the back row off another Krahling set sailed past the end line, setting the stage for Poteet’s two winners that sealed it.
“It’s always great playing in these close matches,” said La Plata junior middle hitter Samantha Falenofoa, whose presence in the middle often altered the Panthers’ attack strategy. “We have a lot of good competition in the conference. Our [Class 2A South] region playoffs are going to be really competitive.”
Patuxent (8-2) had rallied from a 19-11 hole and late 23-20 deficit in the first set to draw even at 24, 25 and 26 before kills from Hanks and Falenofoa finally propelled the Warriors to a 28-26 victory.
Patuxent gained the upper hand midway through the second set with McGrath serving for a 13-7 lead and following a series of sideouts it was Panthers southpaw Alyssa Eells who closed out the set with seven straight winners, including a pair of aces for a 25-11 victory.
The third and fourth sets featured modest service runs and a bevy of sideout points. Patuxent ended the third set with three straight points after the match was tied for the sixth time at 22. With McGrath serving for the Panthers, Heist set Johnson for a kill that ended the set and lifted the hosts to a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth set was promptly tied on seven different occasions, the last at 19, but this time it was service runs from Alyssa Gayon and Sydney Bales that lifted the Warriors to a 25-22 victory.
With Hanks serving, Krahling set Chamberlain for the set point kill that forced the fifth-set tiebreaker, one that the Warriors appeared to have well in control when they owned an 8-3 lead early.
“We had too many service errors and attack errors,” La Plata head coach Ashley Buchanan said. “When they played aggressively, they scored points. But later in the match when they started playing a little passive, they didn’t stay in sync. I thought Kelsey really had a great match hitting on the outside and Samantha was great in the middle, but we had too many unforced errors.”
Keller and his players applauded Heist for her sets and tactful decision making at the net. Aware of where Falenofoa was playing, Heist would either loft the ball to McGrath, Johnson, Murphy or Eells and most times the Panthers attackers delivered with crucial kills.
“She has great hands,” said Murphy, who had been the team’s setter the previous three seasons until Heist arrived this fall from Colorado. “A lot of the passes the ball would come to her with some crazy spins and she would still set the ball to one of us. She’s amazing.”
La Plata High School volleyball coaches and players huddle prior to the start of Monday’s match at Patuxent. La Plata suffered its second straight loss on Monday after the Panthers rallied to prevail in the fifth set tiebreaker.