Mathews volleyball grounds Rockets for five-game win

MECCA – It may have taken four games, but the Mathews volleyball team solved the puzzle and blew past Maplewood in the fifth set to topple the Rockets, 22-25, 25-22, 25-19, 19-25, 15-5, at Oscar W. Grant Gymnasium on Thursday night.

“I think we were just going through the motions,” Mathews coach Carole O’Dell said. “We were talking with them (before the fifth game) about playing their best and not worrying about what out opponent does on the other side of the court. It was just about playing our best.

“I wish I had the answer (for how to get them to do that every time on the court). Coming out of the huddle, they were talking about being the first to five, the first to 10 and the first to 15.”

The answer to the puzzle for the Mustangs (16-4, 10-2 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) was playing at a high rate of speed.

“We need to run a quick offense,” O’Dell said. “We play better when we play faster. Then, we’re nice and relaxed.”

“They were just more prepared than we were in the fifth game,” Maplewood coach Brandy Dunbar said. “There’s no beating around the bush. They’re a solid team and they showed it in the fifth set.”

Morgan Williams, who finished with 11 kills, got Mathews off to an emotional start with a kill to open the fifth game. Paige Sponsler made it 4-2 in favor of the Mustangs with a kill of her own. The duo each had another kill as the lead went to 8-4.

A pair of aces by Noelle Migliozzi, who surpassed the 1,000-dig plateau early in the second game, and consecutive kills by Sadie Bertock closed out the match.

“We’re trying to get them to play (emotionally) all the time,” O’Dell said. “We had a phenomenal practice (on Wednesday). We just keep talking about playing our game. That’s the team I see every day in practice. We just don’t always show up and play that way in games.”

Maplewood (7-12, 6-7) emptied the tank of emotion in forcing the fifth game.

“Obviously, the result wasn’t the greatest,” Dunbar said. “I told them I was proud. They had passion and heart. That’s exactly what I want out of them.”

Four straight kills from Maria Danko, who had 19 on the night, put the Rockets ahead, 5-1, to start the fourth game. After the Mustangs knotted it at 5-5 and 7-7, a Mathews miscue and a kill from Danko gave Maplewood a 9-7 advantage. Five errors from Mathews had Maplewood up, 16-10. Danko sent the match to the fifth game with a kill.

“We started to read the court a lot better,” Dunbar said. “We learned what they were doing and adjusted accordingly. They were hitting it deep out of bounds, so we were able to move up and cover the tips a little bit. When they started hitting deep balls, we moved back.

“We were forcing mistakes upon them. We were being smart. We put the ball in good spots and it led to their making mistakes. That’s what we have to do. We worked well as a team. We were communicating. We worked well as a cohesive unit.”

The Rockets’ success stemmed from playing the game at its own pace.

“I tell them that all the time,” Dunbar said. “We have to play our game. We’re not as good as them at playing their game. We’re better at our style than they are.”

Maplewood took the first game to give itself a much-needed lift, but Mathews gained control of the match in taking the next two games.