Being one of the most improved teams in one of the state's toughest volleyball regions is a double-edged sword.
You can take on the same nearby opponent twice and see drastically different results in back-to-back sets, never mind a week or two apart.
Such was the case Thursday for Scott County, which outlasted Madison Central in a thrilling five-setter on senior night, only a dozen days after sweeping the Indians in a best-of-three format on the Cardinals' path to the Woodford County Invitational title.
“I knew they're the type of team if you give them any kind of confidence, they'll build and keep coming at us. So we needed to come out and make a statement, and we didn't,” SC coach Joe LaMagno said. “We made a ton of errors and kept them around, and they executed. It was back and forth, and luckily we pulled it out.”
LaMagno described SC's trajectory this season as one of “peaks and valleys,” and rarely has the terrain been more challenging than in its return to familiar territory after 15 consecutive road matches.
Scott County (10-7) trailed by double digits in the opening set before a furious rally that fell just short, 25-22.
The Cards charged back with a flourish, 25-18, to square it up after the second set, only to see a 12-4 lead slip away in the third as the Indians escaped, 25-23.
“They definitely came back harder than we were anticipating, but I think in the end we pulled through,” senior outside hitter Emily Rose said. “We tried to have each other's backs.”
A frantic fourth set saved the day. That game was tied at nearly every checkpoint from 20 through 27.
Two kills by Rose supplied SC's first set point, but Central answered. A spike from Melanie McClanahan put the Cards on the cusp again before a retort from the Indians.
Emily Sue Watts staved off match point to start a streak of three consecutive Cardinal markers that sent it to a fifth and deciding game.
“We finally played to win. We kept our composure a little bit,” LaMagno said. “We got fortunate with some good calls, some good plays. I'm not sure we deserved to win. I think Madison Central outplayed us to be honest.”
McClanahan came up big at the net again to break a 3-all tie in the fifth. Her ace then extended what grew into a run of four consecutive points.
Central made one final charge and cut it to 7-6 before another Watts kill hastened Scott County's getaway. Rose and Amy McClure each dropped the hammer down the stretch to seal a 15-9 verdict.
The highs and lows aren't all that surprising when you consider that of the Cards' 14-player varsity, Rose enjoyed the senior night stage by herself.
“It's been fun,” said Rose, whose four-year run has included two seasons affected by COVID-19 as well as one county program becoming two. “It's really enjoyable. I love my team. We definitely have a good future in our program. I'm excited to see what they can do.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.