Passing the test: Mountaineers rally to overcome Eagles

Photo: John Berry

Madison County rolled into its fifth week of the volleyball season having all but crushed each team it had faced. The Mountaineers have been no stranger to casual walks through their regular season in the past decade, but those seasons have also been paired with quick playoff exits — so, suffice it to say, the opportunity to see some adversity when the going is good is never unwelcome at Madison.


The Mountaineers ran into their first struggle of the 2018 campaign with visiting Clarke County, a team that had a hard-hitting unit up front led by Elizabeth Wallace. After falling in the first set, Madison cruised through the next two only to find itself in a 23-20 hole and starting down a potential fifth set. No need though. The Mountaineers behind Makenna Santinga reeled of five straight service points with their senior setter getting the job done there and then Abigail Turner delivering the kill on the last point to pave the way to a 3-1 win, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-23.


“It looked like last year when we were just always the comeback kids,” said Mountaineers coach Carrie Hardy. “I hope we don’t continue that way or I’m going to have grey hair by the end of it but it’s great to win, to face some competition. I felt great about the way we played so far but it’s clear we still have some work to do but it still feels good. We’re going to be fine because this is what prepares you for playing in your region.”


Madison got off to an 8-1 start in the first set only to have Clarke race back and tie at 14-14. The Mountaineers went up 22-20 but with errors being an issue, the Eagles were able to take advantage and swipe the first set 25-23.


Madison started the second set in a 3-0 hole but quickly turned on the jets behind Allie Burbridge. Her kill at 14-8 forced a Clarke time out. The Eagles got within three points of the lead but six straight service points including a pair of aces from Santinga, the last of which sealed the match at 25-15 put the Mountaineers even at 1-1. Not much changed in the third set. While it was close at 10-9 for Madison early, a 7-3 run led by Burbridge allowed the Mountaineers some breathing room at 17-12. With Madison dialed in upfront and Santinga keep the the Eagles defense honest with her sly tipping, Lane Fox was able to deliver a set clinching kill at 25-17 and give the home team a 2-1 advantage.


“You go up and down with the score but I’m proud of this team because we always manage to comeback,” Tanner said. “That’s always been our thing, even if we get low.”


The fourth set was filled with drama. It started with three unforced Madison errors at the front the net to give the visitors a 3-0 edge. Clarke went up 10-3 but Madison was able to close the gap at 18-15, then 20-19 with a kill from Margaret Butters. Clarke rallied, again with Madison faulting on a handful of kill attempts that struck the front of the net to set up the 23-20 Eagles advantage and a potential fifth set. The Mountaineers came out of a timeout and after winning the points at 23-21, Santinga did her thing at the service line and Madison won the rallies with kills from Santinga, Ava Jenkins and then finally the last of the night from Tanner that brought a solid Madison crowd to its feet in celebration.


“We started out really far behind and we (told ourselves) ‘Ok, we’re off on hitting a little but but so we’re going to really use our spots and be really smart,” Santinga said. “Our defensive serve-receive was struggling a lot so I’m thankful they got a chance to pick themselves up. And so from there we just got more energy from the stands and each other and just came back and played really smart.”


On the night, Tanner had 10 kills, two aces, 13 digs and two blocks. Burbridge finished with nine kills and two blocks. Fox had seven kills. And then in an all out showing, Santinga had 38 assists, six kills, two aces and 18 digs.


The Mountaineers, who have have dropped just three sets all season and not more than one in any match (11-0, 1-0 Bull Run District) host Central Woodstock on Thursday at 7 p.m.