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Braves comeback in five, win TRC title over Norse

Northfield's Addi Baker (30) swings at a ball while Maconaquah'sTaylor Roesler (9) rises up for a block attempt during Thursday's contest.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

WABASH - Last season, Maconaquah found itself in a winner-take-all match for the volleyball conference title and walked away empty-handed. This season, with the nearly exact same scenario laid out in front of them, the Braves were determined to write a new fate.

At Northfield on Thursday with a win sealing the outright conference title, Maconaquah rallied from down two sets to one with victories in the fourth and fifth set to capture the Three Rivers Conference (TRC) crown 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-13.

“I think they didn’t like the fact it came down to the final game (last year) and we went out in three sets against Wabash,” Maconaquah head coach Jessica Metcalf said. “We returned the biggest core of our team and the girls that returned that were varsity last year knew what it was like to play in a huge conference game. 

“We came into this knowing that this was going to be the game. Northfield came into the game knowing that’s what it was going to be. (Northfield head coach) Ted (Bahney) and I talked before the game and both of us agreed it was probably going to be the most highly-competitive match that either one of us had played up until this point. 

“These girls work hard and I think they kicked it up a notch when they had to kick it up a notch,” she added. “I think that the difference maybe was our heart was a little bit more. We didn’t come in thinking we had won it by any means. We knew we were going to have to fight for every point and we did.”

The back-and-forth battle on the night saw peaks and valleys from both sides. And it was the Norse who won sets two and three and held all the cards heading into the fourth set. But in the biggest game of the season to date, the Norse faltered down the stretch and watched the TRC title slip through its fingers.

“I think a lot of it was Maconaquah played well,” Northfield head coach Ted Bahney said on where it went wrong for his side on the night. “I have to give it to them. A lot of it was mistakes that we made hitting it into the net, hitting out of bounds. That just helped them even more and I think that put us in the hole even more than we wanted to be.

“Just mistakes here and there, I think that hurt us a lot. Hitting the ball out of bounds, not really taking care of the ball when we hit, I think that’s where (Maconaquah) got us.”

Heading into the fourth set with their backs against the wall, the Braves swung big, scoring eight of the first 10 points. Neither a brief run from the hosts nor an injury to middle hitter Brooke Borden that saw her exit the game could slow down Maconaquah as the Braves led wire-to-wire in the set.

Northfield came close to knotting the set after a pair of kills from Baker and an ace from Morgan Meyer in a 7-1 run that pulled that closed the lead down to18-17 but the Braves stabilized, taking the next three points to stretch the lead back out and force a Norse timeout.

A kill from Rafaela Rietz and a hitting error from the Norse gave the guests a 23-18 advantage that would carry out to the end of the set, forcing a decisive fifth set.

The two sides would trade the lead in the early goings before the Braves took a 5-4 advantage on a kill from Bowyer and never looked back. A block by Atlanta Huckelby increased the lead to 6-4 before kills from Huckleby and Rietz paired with consecutive Norse double-touch faults saw Maconaquah’s lead grow to 10-5.

Northfield would gradually chip away at the lead, closing it down to two points after a block from Kendra Stout and a kill from Baker at 13-11 then down to one point at 14-13 on a kill from Stout. But the hole was too big for the Norse as Huckleby’s tip over the net sealed the win and the conference for the Braves.

“I honestly think it was when we told them that you have to go out and play point to point,” Metcalf said on what changed in the final two sets. “You can’t get down on yourselves. You’re playing competitive ball. You’re playing a good ball team. We will not take anything away from Northfield. You’ve got to go out and have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not winning. When you’re having fun, you’re winning. I think that they realized they had to give it all they had and I think they did. They did very, very well.”

Despite finding themselves down heading into the fourth set, everything about the first three sets on the night was competitive. In each set, Northfield opened up big early leads only to see the Braves come storming back.

In set one, it was a 6-1 run from Northfield spurred by kills from Baker and Stout and a quartet of errors on Maconaquah that gave the hosts a 10-4 lead. But Maconaquah took the next five points to pull within one at 10-9 then reeled off a 6-0 run later in the set to take a 17-15 lead.

Still, it was Northfield that looked primed for the win as a kill and block from Stout and a kill from Kenzie Baer gave the Norse a 22-18 edge. But Huckleby started a Maconaquah run that was capped off with a kill from Rietz that saw the Braves take set one 25-23.

Set two saw the Norse build an 11-3 edge only for Maconaquah to rally and take a lead again. Trailing 12-5, the Braves took 12 of the next 15 points with Taylor Roesler’s kill capping off the run and giving the guests a 17-15 advantage.

Northfield responded immediately with three-straight points as the two sides tossed the lead back and forth. Maconaquah edged close to the set win at 23-22 after the Norse sent a serve into the net but a block from Emily Pennington and consecutive kills from Baer gave the Norse a 25-23 win.

Set three saw no big lead from either side but did see the regular frantic finish on the night. Kills from Bowyer, Huckleby and Borden pulled Maconaquah within two at 17-15 but a kill and consecutive aces from Stout helped extend the lead back to 21-15.

Maconaquah surged back one last time in the set, scoring four straight points to close back within two late at 23-21 but kills from Baer and Baker put the Norse in the driver’s seat after three sets.

Bowyer tallied 26 kills on the night to lead the Braves. Rietz and Huckleby finished with 12 and 10, respectively, and Averi Miller had 55 assists. Bowyer had 41 digs, Lilly Maple finished with 38 and Aubree Dedaker had 24.

The Braves sit at 22-3 overall after the win and finish the conference campaign unbeaten at 9-0. For Metcalf, Thursday’s win will hopefully serve as a springboard for her side moving forward into the postseason.

“We have some pretty lofty goals,” she said. “This was kind of like a taste of what it could be like when we get to that sectional.”

For Northfield, Baker led all on the night with 27 kills while Baer and Stout added 14 and seven, respectively. Abby Hunter finished with 47 assists. Baker tallied 42 digs and Baer 41. 

The Norse slip to 15-6 on the season and 6-1 in the conference. Northfield wraps up the conference campaign with trips to Whitko and North Miami next week. While it came in a loss, Bahney also sees Thursday’s game as a possible jumping-off point.

“Maconaquah is one of those teams that’s really tough and we hung with them,” Bahney said. “We took two sets from them. I think that’s the key (moving forward).

“This team, they’re a fun group to watch. When they’re playing well, they’re playing hard, they’re good to watch.”