Lightning fight from brink to beat Cougars in girl’s volleyball playoffs

The Hunting Hills Lightning could feel it slipping away, and for good reason. Down 2-0 in games to the visiting Notre Dame Cougars in Tuesday’s Central Alberta 4A girls zone volleyball sudden-death semifinal, the Lightning were in big trouble. But instead of giving in, the hosts roared back to post a 3-2 victory and earn a date with the Lindsay Thurber Raiders in a best-of-three zone final starting Thursday at Hunting Hills.

The Hunting Hills Lightning could feel it slipping away, and for good reason.

Down 2-0 in games to the visiting Notre Dame Cougars in Tuesday’s Central Alberta 4A girls zone volleyball sudden-death semifinal, the Lightning were in big trouble. But instead of giving in, the hosts roared back to post a 3-2 victory and earn a date with the Lindsay Thurber Raiders in a best-of-three zone final starting Thursday at Hunting Hills.

“I’m speechless right now,” said a relieved Lightning head coach Blake MacKay. “The last three games was the way I wanted all of our games to be played.

“I’m very happy with the way they fought back. That’s definitely been one of our problems this year — once we get down we get mentally and emotionally down. I’m happy that they fought back from that but I wish we weren’t in that position in the first place. They pulled it out but it gave me grey hairs.”

The Cougars took the opening game 25-22, then seemingly took control of the match with a 25-16 victory in Game 2.

MacKay had a message for his team heading into the third game.

“Let’s fight girls, this is what we’ve been working for all year,” the Lightning coach revealed. “We put ourselves in a position to be here so let’s play the way we know we can play, which they started doing.”

The Lightning were 25-17 winners in the third game and then prevailed 25-18 in Game 4, Nicole Fischer sealing the deal with a service ace. The fifth and deciding game was back and forth, and after trailing 11-7 at one point, Hunting Hills emerged with a 16-14 triumph.

“It was close, we played well,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Kelly. “We fought with them, controlled the tempo for a good chunk (of the match) and then fell short. It came down to a point here and a point there. At the end of it our girls fought hard and everybody was into it.

“I’m proud of our girls, they worked very hard. We had a young team this year and there’s certainly a bright future here.”

The Lightning have one more large hill to climb on their quest to advance to the provincial championship tournament Nov. 28-30 at the Saville Centre in Edmonton. The Raiders are ranked sixth in Alberta and won two of three matches against Hunting Hills this season.

“They’re a very good team,” said MacKay. “We have to shut down their hitting. If we can’t shut down their hitting we’re going to be in trouble.

“But we have beaten them this year and one of the times we lost to them we didn’t have our whole lineup. Hopefully tonight’s match was something to build on because 48 hours from now we play again right here.”

The second match of the zone final will be played Friday at Lindsay Thurber, which will also host a third, if necessary, on Saturday. All matches will start at 6 p.m.