Titans outlast Cardinals in wild five-set match
Thursday’s rivalry matchup between the Coal Ridge Titans and the Grand Valley Cardinals in New Castle sure lived up to its billing as the Titans and Cardinals battled it out in five wild, back-and-forth sets before the Titans were able to pull out the 3-2 win by scores of 25-12, 13-25, 25-16, 20-25 and 15-9.
Following the loss in the fourth set, the Titans were on their heels heading into the final set, but some powerful words from Head Coach Aimee Gerber seemed to snap Coal Ridge out of its funk, allowing the Titans to pick up the win in five sets to improve to 7-2 overall on the year, 5-1 in the 3A Western Slope League.
“I told them that we weren’t playing confident and that nobody’s going to win unless they play confident,” Gerber said. “We needed to become the aggressors instead of the defenders, and then I challenged my seniors to step it up and take the team with them. But I need to give a lot of my credit to my defense; they were everywhere tonight on the court. Its’ a roller coaster, but we’re riding it, and as long as we get the W in the end, that’s what matters.”
Early on it appeared that the Titans were going to roll through the Cardinals as Coal Ridge raced out to a 7-3 lead in set one behind a kill from Paige Harlow and two aces from Nicole Mooney. A kill from Grand Valley senior Bailey Rowe and an ace from Grand Valley senior Bryce Ettles got the Cardinals back into the set at 10-7, but two aces from Coal Ridge junior Cassie Greene got the Titans going once again.
Holding a 12-7 lead, the Titans went on a 9-2 run to pull away from the Cardinals behind kills from senior Dana Kotz and Mooney, as well as an ace by senior Kaitlyn Harlow. An ace from Mooney on game point capped off the 25-12 win in set one.
Looking to add to their impressive start, the Titans came out fast in set two to take a 7-4 lead before Grand Valley senior Tara Ruggles — playing in just her second game with the Cardinals after sitting out the first half of the year after transferring from Rifle — picked up a big ace to turn the tide for Grand Valley. Following Ruggles’ ace, Grand Valley went on a 10-1 run to take a 12-8 lead as Rowe and Ruggles picked up kills, while Layne Teter came up with a big block at the net.
Grand Valley senior Kylyn Rigsby added a block of her own at the net to make it 16-8 Grand Valley before kills from Mooney and Paige Harlow stopped the Grand Valley run. However, Grand Valley was able to force Coal Ridge into some errors late in the second set to pick up the 25-13 win, evening the match at 1-1.
In the back-and-forth affair, set three was Coal Ridge’s turn to apply pressure to Grand Valley as the Titans raced out to an 11-7 lead behind a kill and two aces from Kaitlyn Harlow, a block from Paige Harlow and kills from Kotz and Mooney. The Titans then stretched their lead to 15-7 as Green and Paige Harlow came through with kills before an ace from Ruggles and a kill from Rowe stopped the Coal Ridge run.
With the Titans holding a 15-10 lead midway through the set, Paige Harlow came up with another big block at the net to make it 16-10 Titans before a kill from Ettles made it 16-11. From there, Coal Ridge went on a run to seal the win in set three as Mooney and Paige Harlow picked up back-to-back kills, Kaitlyn Harlow followed with a block at the net and Kotz added two late kills to pick up the 25-16 win in set three.
But much like the first three sets had gone, it was time for Grand Valley to have things go its way in set four.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early 10-4 lead as Rigsby came up with a big block to set the tone, while Ruggles came through with a kill on the next play. After a long volley, Rigsby and fellow senior Lohgan McClung teamed up for a huge block at the net to stretch the Grand Valley lead, forcing a Coal Ridge timeout.
Sitting on top by a score of 10-4, the Cardinals stretched the lead to 12-5 behind two kills from Rowe, but an ace from Greene seemingly flipped momentum from Grand Valley to Coal Ridge as the Titans came roaring back to tie the set at 17-17 on a big combination block from Kaitlyn Harlow and junior Kara Morgan.
Tied at 19-19 a few minutes later, Rigsby came through with a kill to give the Cardinals a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. An ace from Rowe and another big block from Rigsby and McClung sealed the 25-20 win in set four, forcing a pivotal fifth set.
That’s when Gerber’s words found their mark with her team.
“There was no way coming out of that break that we were going to lose this game on our home court,” Mooney said. “Grand Valley is always fun to play, and that was the best game we’ve played in a long time, but having this one at home was a big advantage we wanted to take. We all finally pulled together in that fifth game.”
Starting the fifth set with the Coal Ridge student section on their side of the court, the Titans jumped out to an early 8-0 lead behind two kills from Mooney and some communication errors for Grand Valley, forcing a timeout.
Holding a 12-6 lead later in the final set, the Titans were able to pull away for the win as a kill from Kaitlyn Harlow and a game-point kill from Kotz sealed the 15-9 victory, giving Coal Ridge a big league win on its home floor.
“You can’t spot them eight points in that situation,” Grand Valley Head Coach Dave Walck said. “That put us in a tough hole that we weren’t able to recover from.”
With the loss, Grand Valley falls to 8-5 on the season, 3-2 in the 3A WSL. The Cardinals will have off until next Tuesday when they host the Meeker Cowboys. Coal Ridge will travel to a weekend tournament in Edwards.
For Coal Ridge, Mooney finished with a team-high 15 kills while adding nine digs and four aces. Kotz dished out 27 assists to go along with nine kills and three blocks. Kaitlyn Harlow chipped in with five kills, four blocks and three aces. Paige Harlow and Greene added six kills apiece, while Santana Martinez and Cheyanne Williams added nine digs each.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.