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Panthers pounce late, overcome Saintes

Late heroics from Creston helps it pull out 3-2 win over St. Albert

Ryli Abildtrup (left) and Kelsey Fields (right) celebrate a point in the fourth set for Creston Tuesday night.
Ryli Abildtrup (left) and Kelsey Fields (right) celebrate a point in the fourth set for Creston Tuesday night.

Creston (3-3) volleyball had a flair for the dramatic Tuesday night, capping off its Senior Night with a 3-2 win over St. Albert (2-8).

The Panthers took the first set, then dropped back-to-back sets, putting the Saintes in a position to close out the match. Creston fought back to even the score at 2-2, and ultimately pulled away in the fifth and decisive set for a 15-7 win.

In the opening set, Creston applied the pressure by going up 6-2.

A feisty Saintes squad was seemingly never quite out of it, lingering behind Creston until an ace from Lauren Williams tied it up at 9-9.

A 5-0 run helped even the score, and after the run was snapped, St. Albert didn’t let up. The Saintes gained a three-point lead three times, once at 16-13, again at 19-16 and a final time at 21-18.

Up 21-18, Creston found its groove on the floor and started to make a push for the first set advantage.

On Sam Dunphy’s serve, the Panthers flipped the script on the game by running off six-consecutive points on kills from Ryli Abildtrup, Kelsey Fields and an ace from Dunphy.

With match point at 24-21, the Panthers lost serve, but promptly put the set away with a Fields kill.

Up 1-0, Creston struggled out of the gate in the second set. St. Albert stormed out ahead with a 9-1 score and snowballed it to 16-5.

A late push in the set gave Creston some sort of life, but St. Albert evened it up on a 25-13 score. In the third set, the energy again was flat and the Panthers found themselves behind the eight ball.

The Saintes had seven straight points off Maddy Horvath’s serve to open the set, and later on, got nine-consecutive points on Allie Petry’s serve to make it 20-4.

Despite not being the tallest team in the conference, the Saintes packed a punch. Topping out at 5-9, the Panthers had six girls taller on their roster. Creston head coach Traci Haley called the Saintes “smart” with their attack placement, and that the Panthers adjusted as the game progressed.

“There was planning. Even though we have the tallest girls, ... they have some jump, absolutely, very smart hitters,” said Haley. “They’ll drive it at you, or tip it or find a corner. ... (The Saintes) did a really good job of adjusting to what they needed to do.”

Closing it out

The Saintes ended the third set at 25-7, taking the advantage on Creston. From there, Creston turned a corner.

“We talked about who has it in them. Who’s going to dig deep, who’s going to fight for this win,” said Haley on what was talked about before Set 4. “We have two more games that we can go get. Who wants it? I kind of tried to light that fire they had in (set) one. ... They found it and I’m proud of them for it.”

Creston gained its first lead since the end of Set 1 at 7-6 in Set 4. The Panthers traded points, and eventually got four straight of their own to go up 11-9 off back-to-back kills from Morgan Driskell.

St. Albert’s last lead of the night came at 12-11 in the fourth set. Four points, including a big block from Fields, made the score 15-12. With the energy shifted, the Panthers closed out the set at 25-20 on a 9-5 stretch to force the fifth set.

With momentum noticeably on their side, Haley said it was helpful, along with working on a fifth set situation in practice to prepare them for the moment.

“Momentum is helpful. We played a lot of games to five last year with momentum, and we would lose them. We practiced in the gym about first to five,” said Haley. “... Finishing those last two points. We’ve done a lot to help that (set) five situation. ... We kept drilling that in them.”

In the fifth set, Creston opened up a five-point lead at 6-1. With the set going to 15, and each point proving crucial, the Panthers didn’t take the foot off the gas.

Failed block attempts, net violations and attacks going long went in Creston’s favor to help it win 15-7 in the final set.

Up front, Kelsey Fields dominated. Her 15 kills were a team-high, and her four solo blocks (with one assisted) were also team-highs. Ryli Abildtrup was behind her, with eight kills of her own and a solo block.

Rylie Driskell had 19 assists as the leading setter. Peyton Rice had eight digs.

Haley attributed more efficient passing to the success of the Panthers in the final two sets, saying it helped set up successful attacks they wanted to run earlier in the night.

Senior night

The Panthers honored its nine seniors before the start of Tuesday’s game for Senior Night. Maddie Frey, Karly Calvin, Kaci Abildtrup, Ryli Abildtrup, Payton Luther, Rylie Driskell, Peyton Rice, Sam Dunphy and Kelsey Fields were honored for their contributions to the program.

To Haley, this group means a lot to her, with ties going well before their high school careers bloomed.

“This is a big group for me. I started coaching them in eighth grade,” said Haley. “This is kind of (bittersweet). Having nine seniors, and trying to get them in a rotation, it’s kind of hard.”

Haley said winning on Senior Night, with it not being the final home game like it traditionally is, helped separate the emotions of the two and made for a good night on the floor.

Creston 3, St. Albert 2

Creston statistics

Serving (aces) — Maddie Frey 11-11 (1), Sam Dunphy 11-14 (1), Karly Calvin 5-5 (1), Rylie Driskell 14-15 (2), Bri Fields 6-8 (1), Morgan Driskell 14-15 (3), Peyton Rice 1-1, Halle Evans 5-5 (1), Ryli Abildtrup 15-16.

Attacks (kills) — Frey 1-1, Dunphy 12-16 (3), Calvin 1-2, Kaci Abildtrup 5-7 (2), Payton Luther 0-1, Rylie Driskell 6-6 (1), Bri Fields 12-14 (5), Morgan Driskell 8-10 (5), Rice 2-4, Ryli Abildtrup 22-24 (8), Kelsey Fields 28-31(15).

Blocks — Kelsey Fields 4-1, Ryli Abildtrup 1-0, Kaci Abildtrip 0-1.

Setting (assists) — Rylie Driskell 47-50 (19), Evans 20-35 (9).

Digs — Rice 8, Frey 6, Ryli Abildtrup 5, Evans 5, Dunphy 4, Rylie Driskell 2, Calvin 1.

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