Nothing short of amazing — that’s all there is to say about Forest Lake Christian’s effort on the volleyball court Tuesday night at Bradshaw Christian.
Once trailing 2-0, the Lady Falcons rallied behind the sensational senior leadership of Morgan Koch, Emily Pearce, Aly English, Hannah Zea, Hayden Navo and Hailey Adams and humbled the Lady Pride to force a decisive Game 5, which ended with Bradshaw claiming the victory, 27-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-27, 15-12.
“To come back from down 2-0, the girls showed heart, and they showed guts,” said Falcons head coach Travis Smith. “In the third and fourth game, we were down and fought through (Bradshaw’s) big runs. I’m so proud of them.”
The Lady Pride were definitely flustered by the finale. After stealing Game 1 in a nail-biter and cruising comfortably in Game 2, Bradshaw Christian had suddenly been knocked back on the ropes. Forest Lake Christian trailed most of Game 3, down as many as eight points, and roared back with some brilliant plays by the dynamic duo of Koch and Pearce. The Lady Falcons reclaimed the lead 21-20 and never surrendered it. In Game 4, Forest Lake Christian found itself down 7-1 and overcame that deficit as well. Every point felt as though it were match point, and with a packed house cheering loud, you would have believed it.
Yet Bradshaw Christian stepped up its game when it mattered most and set the tone down the stretch to hold on and took advantage of some costly Lady Falcons miscues.
“We fought hard,” said Smith. “Gotta give mad props to Emily Pearce for playing through illness. She was one of our most solid players tonight. Overall today, the team that played better won. At this level in a Game 5, it comes down to small things. We missed four serves and lost by three points. We struggled to get into offensive rhythm — we had spurts. Our biggest weapon is our offense, and we just never had the rhythm. To (Bradshaw’s) credit, they had much fewer errors.”
In a match like this, words can’t possibly describe the emotion that all the players exerted on the court. And statistics, although measurable, also fail to tell the whole story. For the Lady Falcons, Koch slammed down 22 kills, added 26 digs in the backcourt and had nine blocks on the net. Her mere presence caused chaos for the Lady Pride.
“We haven’t seen (Koch) all season,” said Pride head coach Melissa Bowers. “She absolutely showed up tonight. Everything we did was to adjust to her. She made us work — clearly the anchor of the team.”
Also putting forth tremendous performances for Forest Lake Christian was Emily Pearce, whose great reflexes and awareness helped set up 24 assists and put up 18 digs. She also tallied seven kills and a block. Not to be outdone, English also contributed seven kills to go with her 20 assists, 16 digs and a jaw-dropping 31 service points, which included a pair of aces. Zea had an active role offensively, too, swatting down seven kills, coming up with 22 digs and a pair of aces. Adams’ play was impressive in the middle and came at crucial moments, as she knocked down five kills. Christin Blair stayed on her toes as well, as she came up with 16 digs.
Of course, Bradshaw Christian also had some weapons of its own, mainly senior outside hitter Rachel Byerly, who walloped 23 kills and had 17 digs. The Lady Falcons had trouble finding an answer for her hot smashes early on but adjusted well as the match wore on. Also aiding the Lady Pride’s victory was junior Avery Barrera, who ended with 37 assists, and Alexa Mullins, who served up six aces. Freshman Larissa Lenkiewicz had a key role, too, belting nine kills and blocking seven balls.
It’s a hard loss to swallow for Forest Lake Christian, but the journey was well worth it.
“Aly, Morgan, Hannah, Emily and Hayden — I’ve coached since freshman year,” added Smith. “All the seniors have a special place in my heart. They’re like my daughters.”
Forest Lake Christian’s playoff run may be over, but it has little to hang its head about after going 12-0 in the Central Valley California League.
“Our goal was to win the league championship, and we did that with flying colors,” Smith said. “Our season was very successful.”
As for Bradshaw Christian (24-6), it advances to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V championship match versus No. 1 seed Vacaville Christian, which will take place Thursday at UC Davis. The two squads have split a pair of matches this season with each winning in straight sets on its home court.
“It’s definitely going to be a good match,” added Bowers.
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.