All good things must come to an end, and for the 2022 McNary volleyball season, that time was Saturday.
The No. 8 Celtics ran up against the No. 9 Sprague Olympians in the second round, the fourth meeting between the conference rivals this season.
In the regular season, McNary took the first meeting, while Sprague took the final two, and the conference title. On Saturday, it was Sprague again that came away with the 3-1 win, the same final score as the previous three meetings.
“Every time that we’ve crossed paths they’ve made some new adjustments and added some things into their repertoire,” McNary head coach Crystal Ayres said.
In Saturday’s matchup, it seemed to be a matter of whoever could build a decent lead early in the set would be able to hold off their opponent.
In the first, the Celtics got off to a slow start, allowing the Olympians to take control.
Sprague was up 9-2 quickly, and led by as much as 11 early on.
Perhaps it was the adrenaline pumping for such a big match, but the Celtics had what seemed like an abnormal number of errors for them this season, both on serves and kills, in that first set.
“With experience comes utilizing adrenaline and those nerves, figuring out how to use those positively and convert them into energy and kills,” Ayres said. “I am proud of them that when they came out, anything they did they were doing with a purpose. They had a plan in mind, it just wasn’t going as planned.”
And while McNary cut that deficit down to four, that was as close as they could get before Sprague put it away 25-16.
The second set was a completely different story for the Celtics.
Between those first two sets, Ayres reminded them of all they had accomplished this season, and how many times they’ve executed the way she was now asking them to.
“Just creating that confidence,” Ayres said “But it’s just as important that the girls are internally confident as much as you’re giving them words of what to do. In the second game you could see it in the air about them. They were loud and talking. Communication creates buy-in, and that’s where this team really strives, when we’re all on the same page.”
They jumped out to an early six point lead, which grew to 10.
The Celtics looked far more like the confident, top-10 team they had been all season. An ace from senior Emily Blagg ended the second set 25-13 for the Celtics.
“Volleyball is a momentum game, so coming in and starting out strong creates confidence in order for them to settle in,” Ayres said. “From the time you start playing volleyball, serving and passing is the name of the game. If serving and passing is on then it creates the foundation for everything else to get into rhythm, and that’s really where we started.
It took a little longer for a lead to build in the third set. Things were knotted at 5-5 before Sprague went on a little run, taking a 13-8 lead before building the lead up to eight, and finishing it 25-20.
Sprague was able to build a five-point lead mid-way through the fourth, the highest it would be in the final set.
Both teams showed the tenacity, will and grind you’d expect in the postseason. Throughout the match, and especially in that final set, bodies were hitting the floor.
The Celtics had 79 digs in the match, led by libero Bella Rodriguez’s 19, followed by 17 from Piper O’Farrell.
“Our defense is great, it’s something that does set us apart from some other teams, but today we just needed to have some offense with us as well,” Ayres said.
But as great as McNary’s defense was at times, it seemed Sprague’s was better.
The Olympians were consistently able to dig and block nearly every shot, despite the velocity and angle from the Celtics looking to be on point.
“They made several quick, on demand adjustments,” Ayres said. “We both have prepared for each other. This is the fourth time we’ve played. We know tendencies for both sides, and today Sprague played solid. Their defense and their hustle, we matched, and it all came down to small runs.”