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Rally on the road

Mathews comes back to beat Bristol in five sets

Staff photo / Joe Simon Bristol’s Hannah Woolf (9) spikes the ball over the net while Mathews’ Ally Richards (1) and Bella Spano, left, defend on Wednesday in Bristolville. Mathews won the match, 3-2.

BRISTOLVILLE — Down two games to none, on the road, in a hot and muggy Bristol gymnasium, Mathews appeared ready to give up on its volleyball match and go home.

Appearances can be deceiving, however.

“Some of the girls were down. Some of us were up,” Mathews junior Emma Gates admitted. “It’s just a matter of finding the balance. I like to take control and try and get us all back together. When it works, it works. It’s really just all about everyone wanting it and knowing that we’re going to take the game. If we don’t have that, we’re not going to do it, but today we really found that and had a great outcome.”

The Mustangs rallied and won three straight sets, including back-to-back games that went beyond 25 points, to beat Bristol, 3-2, in a Northeastern Athletic Conference battle.

Bristol (1-8, 1-7) cruised through the first two sets, winning 25-19 and 25-21. The Panthers looked primed for an upset as they held a 17-16 lead in the third set, but Mathews (6-2, 6-2) was showing signs of life.

Staff photo / Joe Simon Mathews’ Maura Newhouse (4) tips the ball over the net as Bristol’s Ashley Bahrey defends on Wednesday in Bristolville.

An offense down two starters because of injuries was out of sorts the first two games, but the Mustangs progressively found their tempo. One of the starters missing was the Mustangs’ setter, who “sets” up the offense, so Mathews coach Heather Sankey had to make some schematic changes.

“We had to adjust with our defense and that kind of stuff,” Sankey said. “It was just finally getting the passes to where we needed to get the passes. The serve receive, we started taking care of that, and really, if you just put the ball up there, I’ve got hitters that can make lots of things happen.”

That started to happen in the third set.

The lead changed multiple times, with Bristol’s 17-16 advantage disintegrating as Mathews forged ahead, 20-17, and then 22-18. The Panthers showed grit as well, eventually tying the set at 24. The Mustangs made a few plays in the end to win, 26-24.

The offensive improvement was evident as Mathews went from gently hitting the ball over the net, which was allowing Bristol to set up its offense, to pounding kills at the Panthers. It resulted in more points and led to Bristol scrambling to rediscover its rhythm.

Staff photo / Joe Simon Mathews’ Emma Gates (18) sends a shot over the net during the Mustangs’ comeback victory over Bristol on Wednesday.

“There was a huge letdown,” said Panthers coach Angela Kriynovich of the third set. “We’re young, and that’s our biggest issue. … We’ve been struggling to find the consistent voice as to who’s going to be the vocal spokesperson consistently. Of our eight solid players, six of them were on JV last year. They’re used to playing best of three, and that’s what showed tonight. They were not prepared to finish the game.”

Bristol sure came close.

The Panthers held several leads in the fourth set, including 12-6 and 17-12, but it was Mathews’ night. The Mustangs, led by the nine kills of Gates and Ally Richards, scored 10 of 12 points to take a 22-18 lead. Bristol answered and eventually tied it at 24. The Panthers held serve and had a chance to take a one-point lead, but a fault led to a two-point Mathews’ rally and 27-25 victory.

While Gates and Richards were catalysts, everyone played a part in the Mustangs’ comeback.

“It takes a lot — a lot of teamwork,” said Gates of the resurgence. “The biggest thing in that game was teamwork. None of us went off on our islands. We all came back. We knew that we wanted to take this game and that it meant a lot for our season, especially coming off a couple tough losses. We knew we had to step it up.”

Mathews never trailed in the fifth set, but it was close throughout.

There were two ties (5-all and 7-all), but the Mustangs continued to ride the momentum from the wins in the third and fourth sets to pull away for a 15-11 victory. Despite the odds against them, Sankey kept faith in her team, one that she has been impressed by for some time.

“This team never stops wanting to be coached,” said Sankey, who added that the Mustangs were working out on their own throughout the quarantine. “It’s the best group of girls I have ever had who really believe in the motto, ‘It takes a team to be successful.’ “

They showed that Wednesday.

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