Southwest Christians Anna Sperbeck (8) goes in high for the kill. It took five sets for the Stars to defeat the Eagles in the Minnesota Christian Conference matchup at Southwest Christian High School. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine
In a game that was likely the decider for the Minnesota Christian Conference champion, Southwest Christian climbed out of a two matches-to-one hole at New Life Academy to remain undefeated in the conference. With one game remaining for the Stars, they have all but clinched the conference title.
It took all five frames, but Southwest Christian, ranked No. 7 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, beat New Life Academy 25-18, 18-25, 24-26, 25-15 and 15-10.
"The game was fun. Being down 2-1 and coming back to win was super exciting," senior outside hitter Anna Sperbeck said. "It was a cool team effort. We were getting touches on balls and going for things. It was exciting to watch."
After dropping the first match, New Life Academy (10-6, 7-1) won the next two. After winning a squeaker in the fourth frame, Southwest Christian coach Greg Sayuk focused on one thing in the huddle before the deciding match: confidence.
"We just needed to be confident. When we are confident we make athletic plays," Sayuk said. "We don't care if the game gets ugly. We just scrap it out. If we are allowed to play a good brand of volleyball, we will enjoy doing it, and if the game gets ugly, we can play that way too. We just need to make good decisions."
It was a good decision for Southwest Christian (17-6, 8-0) to set up Sperbeck, who stood out Thursday.
"It is a team sport, but individually I played pretty well," Sperbeck said. "I was solid hitting, and I think I was pretty consistent on defense."
Sayuk had enough faith in his senior to move her to a new position to help the team for her senior year. It's her play, he said, that helps make a difference.
"She has stepped it up this season," Sayuk said of his three-year starter. "She moved to a different position on both sides of the ball. She gets a lot of opportunities to touch our third contact, and she has picked things up on the defensive end as well. She is a jack of all trades. She has a good volleyball IQ and does a lot of things for us."
Late in the game, the Stars set aside their earlier struggles and stepped up big when it counted.
"Our passers stepped it up when the chips were down in the last two games," the head coach said. "It was pretty sloppy volleyball on our side of the net in the first three sets. It allowed them to get locked in during sets two and three. We did a much better job controlling the ball in games four and five."
Sperbeck has been one of Southwest Christian’s most reliable players.
"We have a good team dynamic this year," Sperbeck said. "We all get along, the seniors play a big role, and it has just been fun having a team that is really cohesive and works well together."
Sayuk said Sperbeck is strong in all areas, but she contends she is most comfortable on the attack.
"I think my strengths are in the front row with hitting," the senior said. "I like to hit a variety of shots, and I think it is really cool to get kills."
Sperbeck – who will have opportunities to play volleyball in college – and her teammates have now won five games in a row.
New Life Academy celebrates their third set victory to take a 2-1 lead over Southwest Christian. The Eagles fell to the Stars in five sets on Thursday night. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine
Thursday night's game between two undefeated, top-contenders for the Minnesota Christian Conference crown, Southwest Christian and New Life Academy, came down to a fifth and deciding match at New Life Academy.
Southwest Christian, ranked No. 7 in the Class 2A coaches’ poll, beat New Life Academy three matches to two, by scores of 25-18, 18-25, 24-26, 25-15 and 15-10.
The first match featured a dominant performance by the front line of the Stars (17-6, 8-0). Even when they didn't get a kill, they kept the Eagles in too many scramble situations to keep pace.
New Life Academy (10-6, 7-1) was more effective around the net in the second frame, and built a 17-12 lead in the third match, but Southwest Christian came back to tie it at 21. After New Life's Hannah George set up match point for the Eagles, they took advantage and duked it out with the Stars, 26-24.
But Southwest Christian came roaring back in the fourth frame and dominated from the first serve. The 25-15 win set up the final match. The Stars continued to use their advantage at the net to build a 7-3 lead. They would ultimately hold off a pair of Eagles' comebacks to take the decider, 15-10.
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Sophomore Mackenzie Close (16) drops the ball in to close out the fourth set and force a fifth and deciding set. Photo by Cheryl Myers, SportsEngine