COLUMBIANA-The road to a conference championship often comes littered with potholes. The South Range volleyball team ran into one Tuesday night at Crestview and were narrowly able to stay on course.
After a back-and-forth match full of lead changes, the Raiders won 25-11, 16-25, 24-26, 25-17, 15-11, to clinch at least a share of the Inter-Tri County League upper tier title.
"We really wanted it tonight," South Range junior Madison Juillerate said. "We didn't play very well in the middle of the match, but we woke up and realized how bad we wanted the win. After that we played more as a team."
The Raiders move to 17-2 overall and 11-2 in the ITCL upper tier, one game ahead of Mineral Ridge. They can clinch the outright title at home on Thursday against East Palestine. C
restview falls to 12-7 overall and 6-7 in the ITCL upper tier. The Rebels host Beaver Local tonight before traveling to Lisbon on Thursday.
"It's great to have at least a share, but we need to finish now," South Range coach Rachell Storm-Baker said. "We weren't taking Crestview lightly. Coming into the game, we knew their potential and we thought it could be a tough game. We did a great job of getting the momentum late and executing our plays."
Juillerate piled up 52 assists and had six kills for South Range, while Jordan Youngs had 19 points, 20 digs and four aces and Lexi Desantis had 16 kills.
Early on, it looked as though the Raiders would have an easy night, as they walked over the Rebels 25-11 in the first set. It quickly became apparent, however, that this would be no runaway, with the Rebels scoring an equally dominant 25-16 victory in the second set.
"After the first set there was not a lot of communication between us," Juillerate said. "We stopped working as a team."
"We did not play like we normally do," Storm-Baker said. "We took a couple of plays off, we took some points off. We don't usually do that."
With the match tied, the drama began. The third set was a dogfight featuring nine ties and seven lead changes. The Raiders were up 24-23 and serving for the set point before the Rebels fought back with three straight points to take the set.
Keying the effort was Brooke Harper, who finished with eight points, 13 kills, 15 digs and four aces. Also for the Rebels, Abbie Gallagher had 17 points and 10 kills, while Cassidy Ross had 12 blocks and Bri Cope had 36 assists.
"South Range came out strong, but we were able to pick it up," Crestview coach Alisha Auer said. "Overall I think we played a good game, it was intense. Credit South Range for hanging tough defensively and making more plays than us late."
The Rebels led the fourth set, 12-10, before the Raiders reawakened and ripped off a 15-5 run to push things to a decisive fifth set.
"For a while we were each trying to do our own thing for a while," Storm-Baker said. "During that fourth set we started pulling together and running our offense and were able to get some momentum."
Crestview did not go quietly. The fifth set featured six ties as the teams traded points back-and-forth. Finally, with the score tied at 11, the Raiders recorded the final four points to emerge with the hard-fought win.
"I told the team before the fifth set that it didn't matter how they played up to that point," Storm-Baker said. "It was all down to 15 points that they had to fight for. It was time to make-or-break it."
South Range will be the top seed at the Division III sectional tournament next week at Salem High School. The Raiders are the defending district champions. Crestview will open with Waterloo on Monday.
"I'm excited for the tournament," Auer said. "I feel like we are ready. We try and peak at this time every year and tonight showed that we are starting to play our best."