ALBANY — By the slimmest of margins, the Vinton County Vikings took a giant step forward in defending their crown.
The Vikings won another thriller over the Alexander Spartans, earning a 3-2 (14-25, 25-19, 25-20, 10-25, 18-16) victory in the Alley on Thursday.
Vinton County has defeated Alexander three times in a row over the last two seasons, and all three wins have come in dramatic fifth sets.
“The girls busted their butt the entire night,” Vinton County coach Ashley Ervin said. “I had girls step up and just push and it was just a team effort overall.”
The Vikings improved to 7-1 overall, and 4-0 in league play after their 21st TVC-Ohio win in a row.
It was the first loss for Alexander, which falls to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the TVC-Ohio.
“It was just nip and tuck in that fifth (set), just back and forth,” Alexander coach Natalie Lucas said.
The tough loss spoiled what was an outstanding effort for Alexander senior Karsyn Raines, the two-time defending TVC-Ohio Offensive MVP.
Raines put the Spartans on her back with 31 kills, three aces and numerous digs out of the back row.
Raines had 16 kills in the final two sets alone, as the Vikings struggled to find an answer when she was in the front row.
“Her performance was all over the place,” Lucas said. “It wasn’t just the kills. I’m not sure how many digs she had, but she was playing really good defense. She carried us offensively at the net tonight when we needed her to and really couldn’t be stopped. We were just one rotation short of holding her up there.”
The first four sets were somewhat lacking in drama. Alexander mostly controlled the opening set, while Vinton County played from ahead in the second and third sets. With their backs against the wall, the Spartans cruised to a fourth-set victory.
The fifth set was a different story, as the two TVC-Ohio titans fought for the league lead.
Alexander went ahead 6-4, only to see the Vikings surge ahead 10-7 after Lacy Ward’s ace.
The Vikings still held a slight cushion at 12-9 after consecutive kills from outside hitter Sydney Smith.
It looked like Vinton County was closing in on the win, but Raines followed with a pair of kills sandwiched around Brooke Casto’s ace and the match was tied at 12-12.
Vinton County was the first side to serve for match point after Zoey Kiefer’s block on Raines put the Vikes ahead 14-13.
Back came the Spartans, as two more Raines kills pushed them ahead 15-14.
And for a moment, it appeared like Alexander would have the breakthrough win. The Vikings’ Ward sent an attack that landed deep in the Spartans’ defense.
At first, it appeared that the volleyball might have been hit just a hair too far, but it was ruled that it touched enough of the back line.
The play was in front of the Spartans’ bench, and they clearly reacted as if they felt the ball was out, momentarily celebrating before the ball was ruled a kill for Ward, and a 15-15 tie.
Kiefer then served up an ace to once again give Vinton County match point, leading 16-15.
Raines again had an answer, getting another set from Jadyn Mace and recording a back-row kill, tying it at 16-16.
It would be Alexander’s final point of the night, as Ward had another kill for a 17-16 edge.
The match ended when Mace attempted to get a kill across the net against a pair of Viking defenders.
The ball landed out of bounds, and a ruling wasn’t immediately made by the officials. The Spartans argued that the Vikings had tipped the ball before it went out.
It was then decided that the Vikings didn’t touch the ball, and they took the 18-16 victory back to McArthur.
“It was definitely a weird finish,” Ervin said. “Obviously our girls were right there. Neither one of them touched it by chance, because they were right there blocking. It was a weird finish, but obviously we’re happy it ruled in our favor.”
The Vikings had huge nights from Smith (20 kills) and Ward (16 kills). Cameron Zinn was all over the court, finishing with 38 assists and eight kills. That trio accounted for 44 of the Vikings’ 45 kills. Libero Kerrigan Ward had 26 digs from the back row.
“Zinn is a great setter,” Lucas said. “She does a nice job of running the team offensively, keeping everybody on their toes blocking wise and distributing the ball. I thought she played very well tonight.”
Mace had 46 assists for Alexander, while Casto had six aces and five kills. Lexie Grissett contributed 10 kills, and Macey Jordan had five kills.
“Alexander came out, I give them all the credit, they came out hard in that fourth set ready to come back and take it from us in the fifth set. But our girls pushed and finished and that’s all we have to have,” Ervin said.
The two teams meet again Oct. 6 in Vinton County. The Vikings have the lead in the league standings, but there is still a lot of volleyball left to be played.
“I told them, this one’s over,” Lucas said. “It’s going to hurt. It always hurts. But we’ll walk back in, we’re fresh and we start looking towards the next opponent and doing what we can do to get better, so we’re ready the next time.”
Wiseman is the sports editor of The Athens Messenger.