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The experimentation of combinations continued for the Fike High varsity volleyball team in its home opener Tuesday evening.
“We had hitters playing defense and defenders playing hitter,”explained first-year head coach Brent Secrest.
But with the combination of 6-foot-3 senior Ashleigh Sage, junior Reece Nelson and junior Keyley Shackelford in sync, the Lady Golden Demons thrived to the extent of pulling out a 25-14, 16-25, 20-25, 25-16, 15-12 marathon against Rosewood of the 1-A Carolina Conference, upping their record to 3-1 going into Wednesday evening’s home test against undefeated 4-A power South Central.
Sage surfaced in productive form in the third set to lead the Fike comeback. Sage amassed 12 kills and six service points.
“I was fighting my own battles in my head,” Sage admitted. “It’s a mental game. But I wanted to step up.”
Sage emerged most prominent in the decisive fifth game with her teammates more effective at involving her at the net.
Nelson and Shackleford joined Sage to spark Fike to a 5-2 edge at the outset of the final game. Next, Sage went on a tear with her kills and serves, and an 8-4 margin expanded to 10-6.
Fike then sputtered and the Lady Golden Eagles (1-4) trimmed the deficit to 11-10. A pair of Sage kills sandwiched around an error each from Rosewood and the Lady Demons left Fike owning a 14-11 margin.
With the Lady Demons clinging to a 14-12 lead, the match ended in unexpected fashion — a double-hit infraction against a Rosewood player. Officials cited the error several times during the match.
“(The last couple of sets) is the way she has been playing up until now,” Secrest commented of Sage. “She has finally figured out she needs to jump. When she times it right — but it takes defenders and setters to get it to her. She can also serve the ball.”
Nelson, who bumped her head in a spill early in the match, contributed 11 points and three kills. She was also the leader in setting up Sage. Junior libero Anna Black notched nine digs and junior Taylor Boykin drilled five kills. The Lady Demons got spark off the bench from junior Riley Patterson and Sage lauded junior Caroline Searcy for playing well at a new position.
Fike clung to a 13-10 lead in the opening set when Nelson served for eight consecutive points. A Lady Eagles hitting error ended set No. 1.
Beginning with the second set, the Lady Demons became error-prone, and the balanced Rosewood attack capitalized.
Trailing 2-0, Rosewood flew to leads of 11-3, 15-6, 19-7 and 24-10. Fike attempted, in vain, to rally behind Shackleford’s serving
Trailing 4-1, the Lady Demons fought to 5-5, 10-10 and 11-11 ties in the third set. Boykin’s winner sent Fike up 12-11. Rosewood stayed ahead after scoring the next four points. Fike axed a 19-13 deficit to 19-18 before errors took a toll. The Lady Demons struggled to protect the middle.
“We gave them a lot of points,” Secrest reviewed. “We would hit it wide and had free balls that hurt us. We didn’t get up to block it some times. Rosewood was getting good passes, good sets and good swings because we weren’t. They did a good job of capitalizing on our mistakes.”
Added Sage: “I am very proud of the girls, but we should have done it a lot faster. We made them look a lot better than they were.”
The lead see-sawed the fourth set. But with Rosewood ahead 11-10, Fike retaliated with the next nine points with Sage and Nelson up front and Shackleford serving. Sage’s ace staked the Lady Demons to a 24-16 margin and a missed Rosewood hit forced the fifth set.
“We won the first set and got kind of comfortable,” Sage reasoned. “Then, we started making a lot more errors than usual; they were going up and we were going down. It was a momentum shift and it took a lot to get it back.”
Secrest noted: “Getting the lead early (in the fifth set) was very key. We play a lot better ahead and haven’t learned very well to come back. I told the girls they’re going to end up with nights like this, and they have got to grind it out. That’s what they did tonight.”
And as Sage concluded from a senior’s viewpoint: “It feels good to win that last first home game.”