ORIENT — The Orient-Macksburg volleyball team had something to prove to their new coach, their fans and, most importantly, to themselves during a five-set Bluegrass Conference win against Murray Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs rallied from a loss in the first set to capture a 21-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-21, 15-7 victory against the Mustangs to end a losing streak that stretched back to the middle of the 2017 season.
“We just broke a 31-game losing streak that covered two matches this year and the previous year and a half,” first-year O-M head coach Gary Thompson said. “I felt like tonight all of our kids were great. They never quit and they have worked their butts off. I am really proud of them.”
Senior outside hitter Kaela Eslinger has seen the progress O-M has made through three matches in 2019.
“Incredible!” Eslinger said in response to helping the Bulldogs become 1-2 this season. “I am so proud of my team and of how far we’ve come. With having a new coach (Thompson) come in my senior year, I thought it was going to be hazy at first. We have got into the weight room and got after it on the court since the first day of practice, and we have been busting our butts ever since.”
Back-to-back kills from Eslinger and Caitlyn Gist handed Orient-Macksburg a 14-13 first-set lead before a four-point Murray rally, highlighted by a kill from Teryn Shields, turned the tide for the Mustangs, who scored eight of the final 12 points for a 1-0 lead in sets.
The Bulldogs led throughout the second set after taking a 9-2 advantage, building a 10-point (15-5) lead as Gist served four aces among five points in the middle of the set.
The Mustangs attempted rally in Set 2, closing their deficit to 22-20 on a kill from Emma Decker, but a Murray hitting attempt went long on the final point to even the match at one set apiece.
Eslinger said Orient-Macksburg has become competitive because Thompson has installed a system for the Bulldogs one piece at a time.
“We have been breaking everything down, saying that we have to play as a team, talk on the court and play as one,” Eslinger said. “No one is going to win a game for us. No one is going to lose a game for us. It’s a team sport.”
Murray was able to secure a close win during the third set, when the largest margin for either team was four points and came on the final serve. There were 11 ties and five lead changes.
The fourth set played out like the third, but this time O-M secured a close victory. Two kills from Eslinger, a block from Haylee Meyer and an ace from Addyson Kerr handed the Bulldogs a 14-12 lead before a hit from Eslinger late in the set gave Orient-Macksburg a 24-21 edge and a Murray hitting error tied the match at two sets each.
“It’s just so hard when the kids have lost so much. It’s more about getting the attitude to win than it’s about playing not to lose. That’s what we kept saying at the end of the night,” Thompson said. “Don’t wait for (Murray) to do anything. Don’t wait for them to make mistakes. Just be aggressive and end this 31-game losing streak.”
Murray head coach Jerry Shields was looking for more consistent serving.
“(We had) too many service errors (as our goal is 96 percent), our passing was pathetic and our setters were doing most of their setting from behind the attack line. When we did have a good pass, we couldn’t set close to the net,” Shields said. “(We) found out that we still have a lot of work to on before our second match.”
Aggressive is how O-M played in the fifth set, when it held leads of 4-0, 6-2, 7-3, 8-4 and 10-5 on a Murray net violation.
The Mustangs trailed 10-7 on a kill from Decker, but back-to-back kills from Eslinger and a flip for a point from Hailey Johnson gave the Bulldogs a 14-7 advantage before a lifting violation against Murray ended the match.
Eslinger was encouraged by a rowdy and boisterous student section.
“We haven’t had that many fans come see us play during the last four years,” Eslinger said. “We drug everyone out (tonight) to come and support us because we wanted to show them that we can play.”
The victory was gratifying for Thompson, who once guided Murray.
“I coached at Murray, and I remember playing Murray the first time after leaving there to coach at Nodaway Valley. (Mustangs head coach) Jerry beat us, and I was thinking about that tonight,” Thompson said. “It was nice to give it back to him.”
UP NEXT — Orient-Macksburg plays at Lamoni at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Murray hosts Ankeny Christian at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Orient-Macksburg 3, Murray 2
Serving (aces) — Kaela Eslinger 28-23 (6), Caitlyn Gist 20-19 (6), Hailey Johnson 17-17, Addy Kerr 15-12, Cora Martin 7-7 (1), Haylee Meyer, Janesa Tonnberg 10-13.
Attacks (kills) — Eslinger 20, Gist 15, Johnson 3, Kerr 3, Meyer 1.
Blocks — none.
Setting (assists) — Johnson 32, Kerr 2, Gist 2.
Digs — Eslinger 30, Gist 21, Johnson 10, Meyer 8, Kerr 6, Tonnberg 3.
Serving (aces) — Twila Barber 8-11 (1), Jayda Chew 3-6, Chloe Church 2-2 (1), Emma Decker 17-18 (5), Bailey Frederick 17-17, Michelle McBurney 14-15 (1), Rylee Newton 16-16, Teryn Shields 6-9.
Attacks (kills) — Barber 10, Eggers 6, Decker 4, Shields 3, Newton 1, Church 1.
Blocks — Eggers 2
Setting (assists) — Newton 10, Chew 10, Barber 1, Church 1, Decker 1.
Digs — Decker 9, Frederick 7, Newton 5, Shields 2, Barber 2, Chew 1.