GREENVILLE — When Riverheads and Fort Defiance volleyball teams met on Thursday night, it was the first time in a week that neither team had gone to five sets.
That didn’t stop them from stretching the fourth set to its absolute limit.
The Indians emerged from a marathon fourth set with a 29-27 win, completing a 3-1 victory and handing the Gladiators their first loss of the season.
Fort Defiance head coach Sue Leonard credited her team’s never-say-die spirit as being there from the beginning.
“That’s the nature of this team that I have, which is why we end up playing five, because they’re not going to quit,” said Leonard. “They believe in each other. They’re kids who work hard and like each other and play hard for each other.”
The Indians came out firing on all cylinders in the first two sets, romping to a 25-12 victory in the first and a 25-15 victory in the second. Each set grew progressively longer, with both teams digging in their heels and refusing to break, and the hometown crowd urging the Gladiators on.
Riverheads took that energy and regrouped in the third set, climbing to a 22-15 lead. Fort Defiance reeled off five unanswered points to start a comeback that ultimately fell short when the Gladiators allowed a long service to bounce out of play, handing them the 26-24 victory.
The head coach of the Gladiators, Ruth Thompson, attributed her team’s resurgence to one thing.
“They didn’t want to get their butts beaten in three,” she said.
All that set the stage for the fourth set. Emma Casto pounded in the first two points for Riverheads, which brought a roar from the crowd. The Gladiators tried to pull away, but the Indians caught them at 17.
Riverheads gained a temporary lead when Macey Snyder’s shot deflected out, but a cheeky chip from Catie Cramer restored the stalemate at 22-all. Fort had set point locked up until Blake Bartley tipped the ball behind Fort’s defense, forcing extra time. The score went back and forth until Jayden Beasley broke the deadlock with a towering block to give the Indians the 29-27 victory.
The Gladiators and the Indians will have the weekend to regroup before it’s time for round two on Monday in Fort Defiance.
Fort Defiance was led by Tori Cleveland, who had 20 digs and 3 aces, and Jayden Beasley, who knocked in 14 kills. For Riverheads, Madison Cash had 4 digs, Blake Bartley had 12 kills, and Emma Casto contributed 11 kills.