Their timing couldn’t have been better.
After failing to defeat their cross-town rival Lindsay Thurber Raiders during the regular season, the Hunting Hills Lightning dug down deep Thursday and pulled out a 3-1 victory in the opening match of the best-of-three Central zone senior girls high school volleyball final. The second match goes tonight at 6 p.m. at Hunting Hills.
Later, the visiting Notre Dame Cougars downed the Raiders 3-1 in the opening match of the boys zone final and will host Lindsay Thurber tonight at 8 p.m.
“We really wanted this. Everyone said they had a great feeling going into the match,” said Lightning third-year setter and team captain Emma Delemont, following her team’s 21-25, 26-24, 25-12, 25-18 victory at Lindsay Thurber.
After losing the first set and then squeaking out a two-point win in the second game, the Lightning pretty much dominated.
The visitors took early control of the third set and cruised to an easy win, then rallied from an early three-point deficit and pulled away late in the fourth and final set.
“That third set was probably the best one we’ve played this year,” said Delemont. “It was really exciting and it got super intense.”
Clearly, the first-set loss didn’t have a negative effect on the Lightning.
“We’re really focusing on one point at a time instead of the overall outcome, which is good,” said Delemont, whose team was strong at the net both defensively and offensively.
“We had aggressive hits and we hit to where their players weren’t, which got us the points,” said the captain.
After finally busting through with their first victory over the Raiders, the Lightning will go for two in a row tonight on their home court.
“It will be tough, but we’re going to fight like we did tonight,” Delemont insisted.
If a third match is required, it will be played Saturday at 11 a.m. at Hunting Hills.
l The Cougars took the first two sets of the boys final 25-23, 25-15, then watched as the Raiders got back into contention with a 25-19 third-set victory.
“We started really strong, we sort of came out really confident,” said Notre Dame coach AJ Mahoney.
“We definitely let it slide a bit in the third set but showed a lot of fight coming back in the fourth after being down so much.”
Indeed, the Cougars trailed by as many as four points in the fourth set before finally pulling at 17 and winning 25-20. A double block at the net created the winning point.
“We had really good energy early, then we let that dip too much,” said Mahoney. “The guys have to go inside themselves and figure out how to pull out that extra gear, which I thought they did in the last set.
“At the end they realized ‘this is ours to take’ and they went for it.”
While the Cougars were 5-1 versus the Raiders during the regular season and in tournament play, Mahoney said the matches were all tight.
“Terence (Raiders coach McMullen) always has an excellent group and there’s always a really good atmosphere playing in their gym,” said Mahoney.
“We came out on top tonight but I expect them to come at us tomorrow in our gym.”
If the Raiders prevail tonight, a third match will be played Saturday at Notre Dame and will start at 11 a.m. if a third girls game is not required.
If Hunting Hills and Lindsay Thurber girls go to a deciding match, a winner-take-all boys battle will start at 1 a.m.