Maddox Snider positions herself to receive the ball in McNary’s four-set loss to West Salem on Monday, Sept. 16 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary volleyball team had plenty of chances to pick up their first win in Mountain Valley Conference on Monday Sept. 14. But in the end, West Salem was the more gritty team down the stretch. 

After splitting each of the first two games, McNary couldn’t hold onto their lead in the third and fourth sets as West Salem defeated the Celtics 25-18, 22-25, 25-22, 26-24.  

“Playing under pressure is a learned skill. We need to be better at communicating and making sure we’re taking care of the ball,” McNary head coach Crystal DeMello said. “But that’s the best part about competing. You have to learn how to dig in and have a little grit.”

An ace by Alexis Eldridge and kills by Zoie Warner and Chloe Martindale gave McNary the upper hand early in the first set. But West Salem came back to tie the score at 9-9, and then won a rally that took nearly two minutes, which seemed to take the wind out of the McNary’s sails. 

The Titans ended up winning six of the next seven points to take control of the opening set. A block by Martindale stopped the bleeding briefly, but West Salem was still able to grab the early 1-0 lead in the match. 

The Celtics, however, were able to regroup in the following game. Both teams went back and forth for much of the second set, but a big spike from Taylor Ebbs gave McNary the 21-19 advantage. The Titans tried to rally back with a kill from West Salem’s Emmi Marks, but Warner and Martindale put away the final two points for the Celtics to even up the match.

“We knew that we just needed to step up our energy. Energy is everything for this team,” Warner said. 

DeMello added: “These girls are well aware of what they can do. They know what each other’s strengths are and they play off them.”

It initially appeared that McNary was in complete control of the third set. The Celtics won eight of the first 10 points and even took a 16-6 lead after a huge stuff block by Martindale. 

However, West Salem was able to take advantage of some great serving and several unforced errors by McNary to go on a 17-4 run, which put the Titans on top 23-20. West Salem eventually won the set by three points, giving them all the momentum. 

“The hardest lessons to learn are when you need to turn it up. We need to improve on making good decision when we distribute the ball,” DeMello said.

Despite missing their chance to take the lead in the third set, McNary battled blow-for-blow with the Titans in the fourth and final game. A stuff-block by Martindale gave her team a 24-23 lead, putting the Celtics one pint away from forcing a fifth set. But West Salem would not be denied as they rallied to score the final three points to take the match victory. 

Even with the tough loss, Warner takes comfort in the fact that her team gave it their all. 

“There might have been some unforced errors that we could have controlled, but at the end of the day, we played our hardest and never gave up on each other,” Warner said. 

McNary travels to South Salem for their next MVC contest on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m.