ANNA — Russia lost its first Shelby County Athletic League match of the season against Jackson Center but won seven straight before heading to Anna for a league contest on Tuesday.
The seven consecutive wins — which included a win over Jackson Center last week — tied the Raiders with the Tigers for first place in the SCAL and gave them a chance for their first league title in 15 years.
It looked like that chance was going to take a big hit against the Rockets. Anna beat Russia 25-17 and 25-20 in the first two sets on Tuesday and took a 10-6 lead early in the third.
The Raiders, which had made several comebacks earlier in the season, came up with their biggest rally yet. Russia beat Anna 25-23, 25-20 and 15-9 in the last three games on Tuesday to claim the match and stay in the SCAL title race.
“Something sparked us,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said. “We started talking and being aggressive. And if we do that, we do well. The first two sets, we kind of sat back and let Anna dominate the game. We picked our game up.”
The Raiders (13-6, 8-1 SCAL) have league matches left against Botkins, Fairlawn and Houston, all of which they beat 3-0 earlier this season.
“I told the girls after the second set that I was disappointed,” Watkins said. “We didn’t show up. I told them, ‘If you win this, you have the bottom half of the County left, and you guys most likely get at least a share of County.’ They just came out flat.”
After trading points early in the first game, Russia went through a long period of lethargy. The Raiders looked to be playing in slow motion on defense and couldn’t get to Anna’s hits while struggling to score many points on offense.
Lauren Barhorst had a kill to give Anna a 12-11 lead in the first game, and the Rockets followed with seven consecutive more points to run away.
Anna (10-7, 6-3) jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second game. After Russia pulled within 14-11, the Rockets scored four of the next six to re-take momentum.
“I don’t think we came out ready to play, and Anna definitely did,” Russia senior middle hitter Laurissa Poling said. “Anna came out really strong and after losing the first two sets, we really knew we had to turn it on. …Everyone starting hustling all-out for every ball and started hitting and blocking.”
Anna took a 10-6 lead in the third game, but Jess York had two kills to help the Raiders come back and tie it 11-11. The squads then traded points until a Russia hit into the net and two consecutive kills by Madison Roe put the Rockets up 19-16.
Russia scored the next two points, then errors by Anna gave the Raiders two more points and a 20-19 lead. Poling sent a hit out-of-bounds to give Anna a 23-22 lead, but a serve error then tied it at 23. An Anna error and a Poling kill on a hard spike finished the match in Russia’s favor.
Poling’s game-ending kill set the tone for the rest of the match, and she, York and Morgan Wenrick scored a bunch of points.
Wenrick, a senior outside hitter, had a kill to push Russia’s lead to 7-3 in the fourth set. Anna pulled within 15-11, but three kills by Poling and one by Wenrick helped the Raiders take a 20-13 lead. Anna later pulled within 23-20, but York had a kill and Ava Daniel served an ace to finish the game.
“We just started so slow, and our coaches were on us to pick it up,” Wenrick said. “… It was really late in that third set, and I don’t even think we woke up then. It was in that fourth and fifth set that we started talking, putting the ball away and communicating a little better.”
The squads were tied 4-4 in the fifth set, but an Anna hit into the net, two Jenna Cordonnier aces and an Anna hit out-of-bounds put the Raiders ahead for good. After Russia’s lead grew to 11-6, York had two kills and a game-ending block assist along with Poling that ended the match.
York, a junior middle hitter, finished with 10 kills and three total blocks.
“Jessica York and nine kills in sets four and five,” Watkins said. “She’s why we won the match. She picked up her blocking, her swinging. She just got more into it. …She had a couple of smart points. She had one where she got blocked and then kind of tipped it over the block. She played a smart fourth and fifth set and was aggressive at the same time.”
Poling finished with 15 kills, 16 digs and six total blocks while Wenrick had seven kills and one ace.
“Morgan Wenrick is the smartest player on our team,” Watkins said. “She’s not our flashiest hitter. She’s not a Laurissa or an Ashley (Scott), but when she gets the ball, it’s going to placed somewhere smart.”
Scott had 14 kills and four digs, Cordonnier had 43 assists, 19 digs and three aces and Kendall Monnin had 22 digs and two aces.
Wenrick said Russia will focus on not overlooking its last three SCAL opponents.
“We’ve been practicing hard every day, and this is what we wanted,” Wenrick said. “I really thought that this was our year. Some of our sophomores have really stepped up and helped. … We’ve had a tendency of going to five sets, losing the first two and winning the last three. We’ve got to pick that up, because when tournament time comes around, we’re not going to be able to do that anymore.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.