NEW CASTLE —
Lack of experience caught up to the Laurel High volleyball team last night.
The Lady Spartans lost a heartbreaker to South Side Beaver, 17-25, 18-25, 25-21, 26-24, 15-8, in a WPIAL Class A opening-round game at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
With two games in hand, the Lady Spartans (13-5) had three chances to close out South Side Beaver (8-9) but failed to do so.
“It was very obvious in the third game that our emotions were running high,” Laurel coach Nikki Downing said. “It was like we saw the light before the light was actually in front of our face.”
The Lady Spartans had a commanding 2-0 lead after two games in which they led by as much as 11. A rotation error in the second game by the Lady Rams looked to be South Side Beaver’s undoing.
“The first two games we just made a lot of mental mistakes,” Lady Rams coach Jason Benkowski said. “We just weren’t ready to play the ball. The second game we had a rotation error and it kind of deflated us.”
Instead of capitalizing on the demoralized South Side Beaver squad, Laurel struggled to find a rhythm in the third game. With the Lady Rams winning 10-7, Laurel was unable to end a plethora of unforced errors which inflated South Side Beaver’s lead to 15-7. It was a lead the Lady Rams wouldn’t relinquish, winning the game, 25-21.
“We played not to lose the game,” Downing said. “You’re not going to win if you do that against a team that’s in the playoffs in the same position that you’re in.”
The energy on the Laurel sideline began to fade after the lost game. A barrage of foot stomping, cheering and clapping that was the signature of the Laurel bench in the first two games was reduced to a nervous silence.
“Hopefully they’ve learned a lot from this game,” Downing said. “That was our biggest flaw, not stepping up and letting our nerves take over.”
The fourth game looked like it belonged to the Lady Spartans after they jumped out to a 6-1 lead. However, the Lady Rams roared back with eight unanswered points to go ahead, 9-6.
“I told them it’s all mental right now,” Benkowski said. “When you saw the rallies go back and forth, they were really evenly matched. It was just who made a mental mistake, and we came back and pulled it off.”
With game four tied at 18, the Lady Spartans’ Mackenzie Mraz, who finished with eight points, five aces and 10 kills, looked to be serving her team to a victory. After two aces on three serves, Laurel jumped out to a 24-23 lead. Against match point, the Lady Rams fought back, winning the next three points to take the game 26-24.
The Lady Spartans never held the lead in the final game. South Side Beaver jumped out to a 3-0 lead and won the game 15-8.
“South Side is a great team,” Downing said. “We knew we had to come out and play our hardest. This is probably the best we’ve ever played the entire season. While it’s upsetting to lose the game, I’m dealing with a majority of underclassmen on the floor, so it looks good for us coming back next year.”
Allie Collier had six points and eight kills for the Lady Spartans. Makayla Dupont led the team in assists with 28. Leah Telesz had nine kills and nine points. Callie Ritchie contributed eight points and seven kills.