Marathon victory in first set serves as springboard.
The Out-of-Door volleyball team has been on the losing side of a close set “plenty of times” during Stefanie Betz’s five years as coach.
So, Betz knew how important it was to pull out the tight first set in the Thunder’s first playoff game.
“Winning the first one was huge,” she said.
Fighting off two set points, Out-of-Door used the first set victory as a springboard to a 3-0 victory over Fort Myers Canterbury 28-26, 25-19, 25-4 in the Class 3A-Region 5 semifinals Tuesday night at the Petrik Thunderdome.
The Thunder (17-11) advance to the regional final Tuesday at Naples First Baptist, a 3-0 winner over Sarasota Christian 25-8, 25-13, 25-15.
In an epic first set?, there were nine lead changes and 18 an incredible 18 ties. The biggest lead by either team was two.
Betz requested timeout with Out-of-Door trailing 23-22.
“I was like, ‘Guys, we’re not even playing our best volleyball because we’ve got jitters, we’re a little bit nervous. You’ve got to let yourself work your way out of it.’ Coming back and ending that one and gaining composure was huge,” she said.
It was tied at 23, 24, 25 and 26 with the Thunder getting even on a kill by sophomore Sophie Fedder. After a net violation on the Cougars, Out-of-Door finished things to go up 1-0 on a kill by senior Adelaide Mahler.
“That was extremely important because it gave us momentum going into the second and just confidence,” Mahler said.
Mahler did not think the sting of the first set took the fight out of Canterbury. It was the way the Thunder started the second set that was key.
Down 3-1 Out-of-Door scored four straight point on two kills and a block from Fedder and an ace from senior Kinsey Newhams to take a 5-3 lead it never relinquished.
“When it’s that close personally, I’m more motivated to win. It’s like you snuck that by me and you’re not going to sneak another one by me,” Mahler said. “But the way we started the second really set the tone.”
“The fact we could pull off a win in Game 1, I was cautiously optimistic we were going to keep rolling, which is exactly what we did,” Betz said.
“We just needed to get past that regional playoff game win. And then they were like now we are in our element, we’re good.”
Then the only thing Betz had to worry about was her side getting complacent.
The Thunder really cracked the Cougars in the third set, racing to leads of 2-0, 5-1, 11-2 and 23-4.
“When I called that last timeout, I told them I wanted them to finish 25 to 5 or less. They did it,” Betz said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Not a big, physical performance at the net, Canterbury did possess tough servers. Getting quality serve receive and accurate passing from junior BreAnn Brown, Fedder and senior Mackenzie Condrack, the Thunder were able to get the ball to freshman setter Ansley White to run the offense.
“Our passers did a really good job in serve receive,” Betz said. “Serve receive is very underappreciated. It’s the only time in volleyball where you are staring down the person who is serving the ball directly at you. It could be intense. They have good servers. But my passers did a really good job. We had a couple of bad passes, but they shook it off and came right back and nailed the next one.”
Fedder finished with 10 kills and 11 digs. Sophomore Shelby Fulton had 10 kills and eight blocks. Mahler ended with nine kills and a block. White dished off 28 assists to go with 10 digs.
“We’ve gotten to this stage before in the playoffs, but we’ve never won,” Betz said. “We’ve been kind of hesitant when we’ve gotten here. It was really a great win to get under our belt.”