JACKSON — 2020 has been a memorable year for all of the wrong reasons, but it gave Jackson a long-lasting memory on Wednesday.
Jackson (10-7) was dead in the water, and looked completely hopeless after getting blown out in the second set to Fairfield Union.
However, it remained calm and battled its way to a fourth set, then a fifth set and a Kloe Zink kill in the end completed the greatest of comebacks as the Ironladies shocked the Falcons 21-25, 13-25, 25-20, 25-19, 15-11 in a five-set thriller in a Division II sectional semifinal.
“I told the girls Monday and Tuesday in practice that this game was going five sets,” Jackson coach Jay Martin said. “Fairfield Union is a really good team, they were in a district final last season. Volleyball is a momentum sport. We got it after the third set and it never left our side. Our conditioning paid off in this game.”
“I still can’t believe we pulled it off, this is so crazy,” Jackson’s Halle Hughes said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team for making the comeback and it’s even better for me as a senior to go out a winner in the very last home game.”
Fairfield Union maintained a 4-5 point lead throughout the first set, but Jackson rallied on a 6-0 run behind Payton Taylor at the serving line and Kaycee Perkins at the net to tie the game 21-21.
But the Falcons scored the next four points on kills from Madelynn Wagner and Morgan Wolfe for the first set win.
Momentum continued to be on the Falcons’ side and they jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead.
The deficit eventually reached double digits at 16-6 and later 21-11 before closing out with a resounding victory and commanding 2-0 lead.
“Fairfield Union had every advantage up to that point and everything was going their way,” Martin said. “I told the girls it’s time to step up, and that the third set was going to determine their season and what type of team they truly are.”
The Falcons controlled the lead throughout most of the third set, but struggled to put the final nail in what was Jackson’s coffin up to that point.
With the game tied 20-20, Jackson made its move with Sydney Hughes at the serving line and the Ironladies ended on a 5-0 run, including a Hughes ace to extend their season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Halle said of her younger sister. “We’ve been looking forward to this year for a long time and I was hoping she’d make varsity. She’s turned into one of our star players.”
Jackson created some early distance with a 4-0 run and got ahead 12-8, but the Falcons later answered back behind back-to-back aces from Olivia Spillers, cutting the lead down to 18-17.
Perkins came up with a block and Halle Hughes followed with a kill before Jorja Bapst registered a kill to put away the Falcons.
“Momentum was on our side and now it was just about keeping the energy, making smart decisions and communicating,” Hughes said.
Fatigue and exhaustion settled in for Fairfield Union as its hits all began to go into the net. Meanwhile, Jackson looked fresh as a daisy, as did Perkins.
She powered down three massive kills and a block as Jackson led 11-5.
The Falcons made comeback and cut the game down to 13-11. But a serving error followed by a Zink kill sealed the deal for the win.
“Every girl stepped up in the final three games,” Martin said. “Kaycee played unbelievable at the net, our back row was communicating and setting things up the way it needed and we played as a team. I’m happy for our girls, and the seniors to go out winners.”
Jackson advances to play at Miami Trace on Saturday in a Division II sectional final with a chance to win its first sectional since 1993.
The Panthers already own two victories over the Ironladies, both times in straight-set fashion. But you know that old saying...
“It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, and while they know us, we know them as well,” Hughes said. “We’re a completely different team from when we last played and our confidence level is sky high, but we have to start fast and stay on top of them.”