Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — After Tuesday’s match had finished, Washington coach Ashley DeAtley pulled senior Rayana Burns aside. With her hands on Burns’ shoulders, you could read DeAtley’s lips.
“I’m so proud of you.”
If you watched the game, you know exactly why.
Trailing 2-1 at Chillicothe in a key Frontier Athletic Conference bout, Burns brought the Blue Lions back from the dead. Her 25 kills, 13 digs, and six blocks led a comeback charge that resulted in a thrilling five-set win — 28-26, 15-25, 13-25, 25-21, 15-13.
“This win meant a whole lot for my girls. Our goal is to win the league. We had several years where we would rally with Chillicothe to tie with them but we couldn’t get over the hump,” DeAtley said. “We had a little dip in the second and third sets, but then Rayana, when we have her on the floor, our team lights up. She’s coming around and she’s such a team player. She was swinging wherever she could.”
That’s an understatement. Burns was literally everywhere.
But she wasn’t alone in her efforts.
“Mackenzie Truex stepped up on that right side and got us a lot of tips, and when we played Chillicothe in the Unioto tournament a couple of weeks ago, we lost and it was partly due to that right side defense,” DeAtley said. “But tonight, we just made adjustments. It was a whole team effort tonight. We just tried to make sure we had fresh legs. When we needed to turn it on, we turned it on.”
The Blue Lions (5-4, 3-0 FAC) were, as expected, instantly engaged in a back-and-forth battle in Tuesday’s first set. After taking a 24-23 lead, the two teams played to ties at 24, 25 and 26 before Washington finally seized a two-point win and a 1-0 match lead.
However, after an emotional first set, the Cavaliers (7-6, 2-1 FAC) were the aggressors for the next two go-arounds.
Led by hard-hitting senior Sophie Fulkerson, Chillicothe won the second by a 25-16 final before dismantling the Blue Lions’ defense in the third, taking a 2-1 match lead with a 25-13 victory.
“Hats off to Chillicothe. Sophie [Fulkerson] does a really nice job. She’s a great player,” DeAtley said. “But some of their right side players and middles were putting the ball down when we weren’t. Their setter did a nice job of mixing things up, which we weren’t expecting. So kudos to them.”
After the third, DeAtley huddled with her team.
“One of my players said, ‘I’m not losing this match. We’re not going to do it,’” DeAtley said.
Turns out, she was onto something.
The Blue Lions took their first lead of the fourth at 8-7 and, although Chillicothe battled, they never looked back. After taking its biggest lead of the set at 16-10, Washington held off the Cavaliers to force a fifth set by a 25-21 final … ending on a 4-0 run.
In the fifth, Burns led her teammates to a commanding 11-5 lead. Chillicothe, per its usual, didn’t make it easy. The Cavaliers eventually cut a six-point deficit to one at 14-13. But an unforced error ended the match, giving the Blue Lions an important conference victory.
Following Burns’ standout performance, Brittney Wilson had 13 kills, 11 digs and three aces while Halli Wall finished the night with a team-high 28 digs and 32 assists. Aaralyne Estep also aided the winning effort with 23 digs.
Chillicothe was led by Fulkerson, who posted a match-high 32 kills alongside 19 digs and five aces. Emma Lambert and Stephanie Hirsch each had six kills while Hirsch had 26 assists, Payton McBee logged a team-high 32 kills, and Johanna Crawford added 24 assists.
The Cavaliers will try and bounce back Thursday, hosting McClain while the Blue Lions attempt to stay on the winning track the same evening, hosting Jackson.
“It was definitely heart. That’s what we played with,” DeAtley said. “Thursday is another league match. We just have to keep on rolling. But I’m proud of my girls tonight. They did a great job.”