Not much separates the best and worst volleyball teams in the Mississippi Valley Conference this season, and Tomah and La Crosse Central gave fans Tuesday night a roller-coaster ride of competitive balance.
Tomah roared back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 16-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-10 victory over the Red Raiders at Tomah High School.
It was the fourth time in six MVC matches that the Timberwolves (3-3 in the MVC) played a match to five sets.
“The second half is going to be real interesting in the MVC,” Tomah coach Sarah Walters said.
The first half has already featured its share of intrigue. Defending champion La Crosse Aquinas finished the first half 6-0 but was taken to five sets by both Tomah and Sparta.
Central, meanwhile, entered Tuesday’s match with just one MVC victory and looked like it was going to blow Tomah off the floor during the early part of the match.
The Red Raiders moved out to an 11-6 lead in the first set. Tomah cut the gap to 12-10 on back-to-back service aces from Reis Derousseau, but Central responded with a 9-3 run that decided the set.
The Timberwolves didn’t start the second set any better. They fell behind 16-8 before sustaining their first effective stretch of the match. A 13-4 run, capped off by a Savannah Murphy kill, gave Tomah its first lead of the match at 21-20, but a service fault triggered a 5-1 Red Raiders run that ended the set.
“We struggled with passing from the start and couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Walters said. “We fought, we battled, but we couldn’t get going. We hit a lot of balls out of bounds, and we hit a lot of balls deep.”
Tomah’s lowest ebb came at the start of the third set, when Central jumped off to a 7-0 lead. Tomah rallied to tie the set at 11-11 and took the lead at 14-13 after a Hunter Eirschele ace.
Central coach Alex Klos called timeout after a Lily Redcloud ace gave Tomah an 18-16 lead. Redcloud delivered another ace to push the margin to 20-16, but Central crept back to within 23-22 before Tomah scored the set’s last two points. Madison Lindauer dropped a short spike for the 24th point, and Abby Wagenson delivered the 25th point on a block kill.
The Timberwolves also fell behind in the fourth set, when they transformed a 9-5 deficit into a 12-11 lead. Neither team would lead by more than a point until a Central service fault gave Tomah a 19-17 cushtion.
A Mallory Pierce block gave Tomah a 20-18 lead, and an unforced Central error and back-to-back spikes from Derousseau pushed the margin to 23-18.
Ella Plueger increased Tomah’s lead to 24-19 with a kill off a Central block, and Pierce provided the 25th point by hammering a floating free ball to tie the match at 2-2.
The Red Raiders, once again, took a lead in the fifth set. They held an 8-5 advantage after a Danielle Cagle ace, but a service fault and two hitting errors tied the set at 8-8 and triggered a Central timeout.
The break didn’t halt Tomah’s momentum. Murphy delivered a kill to put Tomah ahead 9-8, and Tomah would score four more answered points before Central called another timeout.
A Tomah hitting error cut the lead to 13-9 before Murphy delivered another kill for a 14-9 lead. Maggie Popp scored Central’s last point with a kill before Murphy ended the match with a spike off a Central block that went out of bounds.
Walters was proud of her team’s comeback.
“We talk a lot about perseverance,” Walters said. “They just keep trying. They kept working and working, and as long as they kept working and didn’t give up, it was bound to fall into place.”
She said the improved accuracy of her hitters later in the match was critical in the comeback.
“(Central) is a very scrappy team,” Walters said. “They don’t let any ball just drop. In order to get a kill on them, you have to put the ball away.”
Derousseau led the Timberwolves with 17 kills. Murphy, a sophomore, emerged as a second outside hitting option, especially in the fifth set.
“(Murphy) really came through for us in clutch situations,” Walters said.
The Timberwolves start the second half of the MVC season Tuesday with a home match vs. La Crosse Logan. The varsity reserve and junior varsity matches start at 5:30 p.m., followed by the varsity at 7 p.m. Four of Tomah’s final six MVC matches are at home.
Results of Sept. 14
Tomah def. Central 16-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-10
Aquinas def. Logan 25-16, 25-19, 25-18
Holmen def. Sparta 25-8, 25-12, 25-19