Brock Netter, Staff Writer
KINNIKINICK — As the final point fell to the ground on Thursday, Zane Trace had no idea what it had truly just accomplished.
It was more than just a victory over its arch-rival, Unioto. It was a volleyball program moment.
After trailing 2-1, the Pioneers (7-4, 5-3 SVC) rallied and pushed the game to five sets before pulling out a five-set victory by a 15-25, 25-20, 20-25, 25-23, 15-9 final.
It marked the first time since 2012 in which the Pioneers have taken the season series over the Shermans (8-7, 3-5 SVC).
“We have five incredible seniors that show a ton of leadership and the other girls just fall right into place,” Zane Trace coach Cyndi Davis said. “But the sophomores who rotate in and work incredibly hard, including our junior middle hitter Emily Allen … the chemistry this team has is amazing. They wanted this one and took it in the final two sets.”
Unioto completely overwhelmed Zane Trace in the opening set, and used a heavy dose of Kacey Pierce to do so. The Shermans led from the start to the final point as Pierce registered eight kills to put the purple and gold ahead 1-0.
Pierce continue her swinging, while Carissa Wheeler began to showcase her efforts defensively and affect shots at the net in the second. The duo helped power the Shermans ahead 12-9, and later 16-11.
However, the Pioneers picked up intensity as the trio of Gracey McCullough, Hannah Hale and Emily Allen led the attack. Little by little, they began chipping away and building momentum to take their first lead at 19-18.
Allen came up with a kill and a block down the stretch to help officially put the Shermans away to tie the match, 1-1.
“It all came down to our energy and aggression. That was the difference in the sets we won and didn’t win,” Allen said. “Once that got going, I got going and the momentum just carried the rest of the way. It’s just a matter of getting to that point and it took a little while, but I got there.
“Also our back row was incredible. They hustle every single night, every play for every ball and we wouldn’t be anywhere without them. They’re outstanding.”
The Pioneers kept that momentum and energy going as they stormed out to a quick 9-2 lead in the third, and later took a 19-12 edge following back-to-back aces from Lexi Betts and a kill from Allen.
However, it was the Shermans’ turn to rally. Pierce went back to work, logging five kills, while Sophie Coleman served up a pair of aces. That totaled to a 13-2 run that put the Shermans ahead 2-1.
“I told Lexi [Betts] and Liz [Harber], who are our libero and defensive specialist, that we were slow to the ball, and that’s why we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” Davis said. “We were waiting and hesitating, and even doing that for a second in volleyball makes the game harder. Also, we’ve been struggling with serve receive. We’re not getting aced, but our passes to our setters haven’t been great which means we can’t run our offense. Tonight we were much better in that area.”
Zane Trace maintained a lead throughout the fourth, behind kills from Hale and Lexi Scott, until Unioto made its run and tied the set 21-21 after an ace from Ella Cutright. A Wheeler block gave Unioto a 22-21 lead before a Scott kill tied the game at 23. But two unforced errors on the Shermans’ side sent the game to a fifth set.
Scott came out on a mission and started with three kills as the Pioneers powered to a 7-1 lead in the fifth. Unioto chipped away and later cut the lead to 9-6, but Zane Trace’s Alli Bennett had seen enough and logged three kills down the stretch to ice the win.
“My teammates continued to pick me up because I was struggling in the first couple of sets,” Scott said. “That helped get my mind right and once I got out of my head, everything was fine.
“We started off the week with two losses, so this is a huge win for us. The biggest thing for us was getting out and getting a lead in that fifth set. This was a hard week and we have another hard week ahead, but this was much-needed.”
Bennett finished with 22 assists, 21 digs and 13 kills to lead the Pioneers, followed by Scott with 13 kills and six digs. Laynee Hill had 17 digs, 11 assists and five kills, Kinley May added 16 assists and 13 digs, and Allen and McCullough each had six kills alongside Allen’s six blocks.
Zane Trace returns to action on Monday at home against Vinton County while Unioto hosts Huntington in conference action on Tuesday.