By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — The atmosphere of a rivalry match can be, well, unrivaled.
When the home team makes an epic comeback late in the fifth set in a volleyball match that had been tightly contested the whole time, it elevates it to a whole other level.
For Three Rivers’ volleyball team, its five-set win over Sturgis at the Purple Palace Thursday night to remain undefeated in the Wolverine Conference was just that environment, and it was a match that coach Megan Jergens said afterwards made even her a bit emotional.
“This is our fourth time beating [Sturgis this year], and they’ve given us a run for our money every single time,” Jergens said. “[Our team] just had it in them, like, look, it’s not over.”
With the win, Three Rivers, the No. 8 team in Division 2 according to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association, moves to 6-0 in the Wolverine Conference, and clinched at least a share of the conference title.
The night got off to a slow start for the Wildcats, as Sturgis took the first set by a convincing 25-14 score. Sturgis got out to an early 7-2 lead in the set before Three Rivers rallied for six straight points to make it 8-7. However, Sturgis would find holes in Three Rivers’ defense to go on an 8-1 run to go up 15-9 and never looked back in the set.
However, Jergens said she remained confident despite her team dropping the first set.
“Sometimes, my girls are just kind of like, ‘hey, we’re good,’ like a little bit too nonchalant, so we’re doing a lot of urgency drills in practice,” Jergens said. “Every time we have played [Sturgis], we’ve lost the first set except for the last time we played them. I told them, I almost laughed in the huddle, like, ‘look, we’ve been in this position before not one, not twice, but three times.’”
The Wildcats would rebound from that first set to win the second set 25-15 and the third set 25-16. In the second, the ‘Cats got off to an 8-3 lead and extended their lead to 17-5 over halfway through the set. Although Sturgis would get as close as six points the rest of the set, Three Rivers held on for the set win. In the third set, the score would be tied at 7-7 after a Sturgis kill before TR called a timeout. After the set got to 11-10 for Three Rivers, the Wildcats would go on an 8-2 run to make it 19-12, and eventually score four of the last five points in the set to take it to the fourth set.
However, Sturgis would come out strong in the fourth set, starting out 7-2 thanks to multiple kills and back-to-back aces by Vivienne Merchant. Three Rivers would only get as close as two points to the Trojans the rest of the set, as Sturgis won the fourth set 25-19, setting off a winner-take-all fifth set.
From the outset, it looked as if the fifth set would be a replay of the fourth set, as Sturgis got out to a quick 7-3 lead before Three Rivers called a timeout. However, some Sturgis errors, kills from Allie McGlothlen and Madelyn O’Hara, and an ace from Aliza Munro brought Three Rivers back to an 8-8 tie. However, Sturgis would go on a 6-1 run to force match point at 14-9 after the timeout, with a kill and ace from Angela Cary, a kill by Keyanna O’Tey, a block from O’Tey and Emyrson Claar, and a kill from Adison Nettleman.
However, Three Rivers made an impressive comeback on match point, thanks to solid serves from McGlothlen, three kills from Jenna Southland and three hitting errors from Sturgis to come back from the brink and go up 15-14, staving off five straight match points and setting up a match point of their own.
“I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this serve in, or else I’m done,’” McGlothlen said. “I would take a deep breath before every serve, and kind of tell myself to just, easy in, and if it was out, I was like, oh shoot. I just tried to not think about it and just think it wasn’t even close.”
Jergens shouted out McGlothlen for her performance at the line on those critical points in the fifth set.
“I’m especially proud of Allie, who’s back here when it’s game point for them, that’s such a hard spot to be in, especially as a senior you start thinking, like, all these different things,” Jergens said. “I’m so proud she was able to keep it together.”
Sturgis would get the next two points to bring it to a seventh match point at 16-15 after a Wildcat hitting error and another ace from Merchant. But, Three Rivers would get three straight kills to win the set 18-16 and end the match, sending the Three Rivers crowd into pandemonium.
“I am so proud of our fans, they were really in it,” Jergens said.
For the day, Jenna Southland had 28 kills, six blocks, and four digs. McGlothlen had 15 kills, 12 digs and three blocks, Lanie Glass had seven kills and two digs, O’Hara had five kills and three digs, Arabella Mangold had three kills, 10 digs and a block, Munro had 23 digs and three aces, and Miley Southland had 46 assists and 10 digs from the setter’s spot.
“Tonight was a fun night of volleyball, and I’m just so proud of them that they are able to keep their composure under difficult times,” Jergens said.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.