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Rally in first set sparks Dragons

WARREN — Volleyball can be a streaky sport where momentum swings, sometimes from an ace or two, a series of kills, or from a team just not being able to close out a set by getting those final few points to 25.

There was a time Wednesday night during the opening set between the Warren G. Harding Raiders and Niles Red Dragons when the Raiders seemed to have control.

They were poised to run away with the opening set, but then the Dragons methodically chipped into a six-point deficit and overcame a 21-19 Harding lead to come away with a 25-21 advantage in the set.

That momentum spilled into a 25-9 second set win and then the sweep, as Niles held off the Raiders, 25-22, in the final set.

“Absolutely,” Niles McKinley coach Jen Burman said. “It really, really did. That makes a big difference. We had some good serving down the stretch.”

Carla Thigpen and Lauren Reed were key servers as Niles (2-4) took a 3-3 tie in the second set and made it a 14-3 advantage from which the Raiders (2-3) could not recover.

Thigpen finished with 16 points off of serves, with three aces.

Burman said she thinks serving is something that her team definitely needs to get better at. She said the Red Dragons need to be more consistent at being able to put down a kill.

That came into fruition on Wednesday with Halle Snyder and Logan Lewis leading the way with seven kills apiece.

“Halle had several key kills down the stretch,” Burman said.

For the Raiders, the collapse in the opening set wasn’t lost on their coach Nadine Gardner.

Gardner said that seeing that first set slip away turned into a recurring theme of her team not being able to mentally recover.

“I just kind of feel like the girls gave it up a little bit,” she said. “They gave up on themselves. Their energy was very high at the beginning of the game. It started to dwindle down. We made some changes and it got better but not enough for us to prevail.”

Harding came back from a 16-8 deficit in the final set and got it tied up at 19-all, but it seemed like the Red Dragons had the key hit, dig, or assist all night to outlast the Raiders in that final set.

“It could have been very interesting if we would have won that third set,” Gardner said. “It definitely could have bought our morale back. We struggled with a lot of low energy tonight.”

For the Red Dragons, holding on down the stretch erased the feeling of a recent five-set defeat to Struthers.

“I think we are a bit mentally stronger,” Burman said. “We took it all the way to 15-14 and lost to Struthers. I think that gave us confidence that we can win in those pressure situations.

“That was a big deal for us. It was a bummer that we didn’t quite get over the top, but it helped us tonight because we were so mentally strapped.”

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