FISHERSVILLE – In an intense match Thursday night, Riverheads volleyball traveled to Wilson Memorial, but neither team packed their A game.
The result wasn’t always pretty, with both teams low on consistency, but the Gladiators gutted it out and pulled off a 23-25, 26-24, 25-14, 25-15, 16-14 victory that was a comeback in every sense of the word.
Riverheads lost the first set. If there was ever any doubt that defense wins games, the first set clarified it. Wilson’s athletic and energetic defense foiled Riverheads repeatedly. Twice Wilson players dove for shots that Riverheads’ fans had already assumed were points, only for Hannah Johnson or Emma Harrison to dive and emerge with the ball very much in play. On both occasions Wilson won the rally. They won the set by two points, 25-23.
Wilson’s hearty defense put head coach Ruth Thompson’s Riverheads side in a tough spot, both on the scoreboard and psychologically.
“Wilson doesn’t let balls die easily, so you’re battling extra for each point,” Thompson said. “And then they had to battle themselves mentally to keep themselves up, and it was a lot.”
Riverheads alleviated some of that pressure in the second set, as both teams struggled to muster the consistency to hold a lead. The game went from deadlock to deadlock, with Wilson giving up set point as a shot fired wide of the court. Emma Casto rose up for Riverheads and blasted a shot off a Wilson player to give the Gladiators the lead, and Wilson put their next point out of play to give Riverheads a 26-24 victory.
If the Gladiators were guilty of some hesitancy in the first and second sets, they brushed it aside in the third, roaring to a 9-1 start. The lead held out, and Riverheads won the third set 25-14.
While Riverheads’ energy flagged in the fourth set, Wilson found consistency, and was able to keep plays alive time after time, putting the Gladiators under pressure. The consistency came full circle when Cassidy Davis, who had opened the scoring for the Hornets, netted the winning point in the 25-15 victory.
Conventional wisdom says that with the shortened scoreline of the fifth set, with teams only needing 15 points to win, that the team with the early lead stands to win, as the trailing side may not have time to catch them.
Nobody told Riverheads.
The Gladiators bounced back from early setback, going down 5-1, to force a tiebreak, at set point no less. With Wilson needing only one point to win, Riverheads unleashed six points in a row, including back to back scores by Emma Tomlinson, to win the final set 16-14.
Riverheads head coach Ruth Thompson was thrilled with the win.
“It’s lovely,” Thompson said. “I’m glad they pulled it off. They didn’t play scared in that fifth game, even when they went down and I think that paid off.”
“I told them to push and take control, and they had control the whole game,” Wilson coach Lauren Grove said. “But it’s been up and down with both teams all night. They just came out on top.”
For Riverheads, Blake Bartley had 16 kills and two aces, Emma Casto had 15 kills, and Madison Cash added four aces. Wilson was led by Hannah Johnson, who had 15 kills and 28 digs, and Cassidy Davis, who had 11 kills. Madison Lam and Sam Kershner added 14 digs apiece.
Both teams resume play on Tuesday. Riverheads will be at home against Stonewall Jackson and Wilson travels to East Rockingham.