In the fifth and deciding set of a volleyball match, the first team to 15 points is declared the victor as opposed to 25 points in the preceding sets. The fifth set is rarefied air for the Fighting Scots, who usually smother opponents en route to winning matches in three consecutive sets.
But on Tuesday night, Scotland found themselves staring down the barrel of a fifth-set defeat.
Yet even with his team down 13-8 in the fifth set against conference rival Pinecrest, one of the top volleyball teams in the state, Scotland varsity head coach David Barnes retained the up-most confidence in his Fighting Scots as Maddie Milholland dropped back to serve.
And with Milholland serving for Scotland, Barnes’ faith was rewarded as the Fighting Scots battled back to a 13-13 tie with Pinecrest shortly before his team closed the match out via the 17-15 fifth set victory.
For Barnes, it was one of the most exciting matches he has coached in years.
“I was hoping Maddie would go back there and utilize that great, aggressive serve of hers to get us back in the match, and that’s exactly what she did,” Barnes said. “She wasn’t intimidated by the moment and neither was the rest of the team. It was every bit the matchup I thought it would be, and these girls should be commended for fighting until the very last point against a great team.”
Forget losing a match: prior to hosting Scotland Tuesday night, the Pinecrest Patriots were 10-0 and never gave up a single set in those wins.
That all changed in the first set of the match.
In addition to Milholland, the Fighting Scots were nearly perfect on serves for the entirety of the match. Out of 105 combined serves, Scotland had 10 serving aces and just eight serving errors, which has become a calling card for teams coached by Barnes during his run of seven consecutive conference championships.
Also consistent on this night was high-powered striker Caroline Pridgen, who had 21 total kills and a 28% kill percentage. Pridgen and Libby Ingram have developed a potent one-two offensive punch for the Fighting Scots, and Tuesday night was no different as Ingram added 14 kills, four solo blocks and a game-high 10 digs against Pinecrest.
The combined factors resulted in a dominating 25-10 first set victory for Scotland that gave Pinecrest its first taste of defeat on the season. However, they would bounce back in the second set with a 25-21 victory of their own. Both teams would alternate winning sets three and four (Scotland took set three 25-16, while Pinecrest again responded with a 25-17 set four victory) to force a set five tie-breaker.
And when they allowed Pinecrest to close within a mere two points to take the match, Barnes knew that his players had confidence and steel resolve on their side.
“They never looked dejected and never looked defeated no matter how the match went,” Barnes said. “I think that’s where Scotland volleyball tradition means a lot, because the Fighting Scots go into every match expecting to win, and that didn’t change even with our backs against the wall.”
Behind the tandem of Pridgen and Ingram has been selfless team play all season long, and against Pinecrest the Fighting Scots once again showed this inherent quality. While Pridgen led the team in passing with 22 of 29 successful passes to target, she was followed closely behind by Avery Callahan who had an 18-27 night. Callahan would also collect 13 assists against the Patriots, and as she’s grown accustomed to doing, Brianna Harris added a team-high 18 assists on the night as well.
But when things looked most dire, it was Greta Griswold who came up the biggest on defense. She had 17 of 26 passes to target and seven digs on the evening, but also had several big-time defensive saves that provided a spark that her team would utilize to storm back and secure the victory.
“Our entire team had several clutch saves throughout the match, but it was Greta who led the charge,” Barnes said. “She had several big time plays and played great defense right at the end to keep us from losing.”
With Tuesday night’s win, Scotland remains undefeated on the season.
Only a full day removed from their epic confrontation with Pinecrest, Scotland will travel to Hoke County for yet another conference match. And Tuesday night won’t be the last regular season meeting between the Scots and Patriots, as the two teams will meet again October 2 at home.
But with Tuesday night’s win in the books, Barnes believes that the tone has been set for the rest of the conference going into the second half of their season.
“What the win does for us is amplify what everyone already knows,” Barnes said. “To win the SEC conference in volleyball, you have to go through the Fighting Scots.”