After three sets close sets with multiple long rallies, Tomah High School volleyball coach Sarah Walters thought her team was fatigued in the fourth set.
The Timberwolves found a second wind just in time.
Tomah rallied in the fifth set to claim a 26-24, 22-25, 26-24, 14-25, 15-13 victory over Onalaska in a Mississippi Valley Conference match Tuesday at Tomah High School.
After being routed in the fourth set, the Timberwolves had to overcome a pair of perilous deficits in the fifth set.
“It was sheer determination,” Walters said. “They really wanted to win this game.”
Tomah won two of the first three sets before wilting in the fourth set. Onalaska held a 19-6 lead before trading points with the Timberwolves down the stretch.
Things didn’t get much better to start the fifth set. Walters called a timeout after the Hilltoppers took a 4-1 lead, and a Tomah service fault boosted Onalaska’s advantage to 9-4.
Tomah responded with a 4-1 run, which triggered an Onalaska timeout. The Hilltoppers pushed their lead to 13-9 before Tomah setter Ella Plueger made the play that transformed the match. She appeared ready to launch a set but suddenly re-directed the ball with a two-hand push over the net. A surprised Onalaska side let the ball hit the floor, and it switched the momentum to Tomah’s favor.
Savannah Murphy hammered two straight kills to tie the set at 13-13, and Tomah got its 14th point when Onalaska tried to spike into the teeth of a double block of Murphy and Alyssa Whaley.
Tomah got match point when a spike off an Onalaska short set landed barely outside the right sideline.
“In that fourth set, we started to die a little bit,” Walters said. “We had to figure out how to play tired.”
Tomah also had to rally to win the first and third sets.
Onalaska plastered the Timberwolves with back-to-back service aces to take a 21-14 lead in the first set and still led 24-19 before Tomah rattled off the set’s final seven points. Lauren Noth evened the match at 24-24 with a spike, Plueger delivered an ace for the 25th point, and Jenna Tracy drilled a spike off an Onalaska free ball for the 26th point.
The Timberwolves trailed 12-8 in the third set before taking a 20-18 lead. Onalaska evened the match at 24-24, but a Lily Redcloud ace and Onalaska net violation secured the set for Tomah.
The first three sets featured lengthy rallies that Walters said were extended by a Tomah defense led by Redcloud, who finished with 24 digs from the libero position.
“Our defense did a great job. They were constantly moving,” Walters said. “(Redcloud) was everywhere. She’s a big part of our defense, and her ability to read what’s happening on the court is huge.”
Murphy led the hitters with 19 kills and had stretches when she was unstoppable at the net.
“At the end of the fifth set, you saw what a smart player (Murphy) has become,” Walters said. “She can hit the ball as hard as it could be, but she sees that’s not always how it has to be and there are smarter ways to get a kill.”
Plueger led the setters with 24 assists and added eight digs.
Whaley finished with three kills and six blocks, Tracy had seven kills, and Abby Nick had four kills and five blocks.
Onalaska’s Olivia Gamoke did her part to keep rallies going with 40 digs.
Tomah improved its MVC record to 6-4, while Onalaska fell to 7-3.
The Timberwolves need to win just one of their two remaining matches to nail down a winning MVC record. They play road matches next week at La Crosse Central Oct. 15 and La Crosse Logan Oct. 17. The Timberwolves beat both teams at home earlier this season.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.