MAGNOLIA — Dropping the first two sets was never the plan for Oak Ridge, of course. But that’s exactly where the Lady War Eagles found themselves Saturday morning against Magnolia - with their backs against the wall.
The team responded in resounding fashion, however, winning three consecutive sets and earning a 19-25, 18-25, 25-23, 25-17, 15-10 non-district victory. Oak Ridge improved to 3-0 this season after sweeping Summer Creek and Klein Cain earlier in the week.
“We’ve been talking a lot about how we’re a talented team, and we just have to start believing that,” Oak Ridge coach Rachel Croley said. “We have a lot of returners and could do a lot of great things, but we just need to have a little more confidence.”
Magnolia, meanwhile, dropped to 1-2 this season with the loss. The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to commanding leads in each of the first two sets against Oak Ridge before the visitors finally flipped a switch in the third.
“I think Oak Ridge started playing really good defense,” Magnolia coach Ashley Farris said. “They started out-serving us. We stopped serving as aggressive, and then defensively, we were getting outplayed.”
The opening set featured five ties in the early stages, but Magnolia took the lead for good at 12-11. The Lady Bulldogs used a 6-2 run to find some separation and held Oak Ridge at arm’s length en route to the victory. It was more of the same in the second game as Magnolia kept its foot on the gas. The home team used a 6-1 spurt to pull away and closed out the set from there.
“We were just kind of executing in all areas of the game,” Farris said. “We served well, and our passing was on. We really focused on getting our middles involved, and I thought they did an incredible job of finding the court. We were just in a rhythm.”
Oak Ridge led for most of the third game, but the Lady Bulldogs remained within striking distance throughout. The Lady War Eagles ultimately made enough plays down the stretch to earn the victory and stay alive. Oak Ridge rode that momentum into the fourth set and finished strong with an 8-2 flurry to knot the match at two wins apiece.
“We knew we had to keep it away from their libero (Kaylyn Fojt) when we were hitting,” Croley said. “We tried to keep it away from her and really go at the other side of the court. She’s very talented and made a lot of very good defensive plays.”
The Lady War Eagles were dominant out of the gates in the fifth set, jumping out to an 8-0 lead with Avery Fowler serving tough. Magnolia fought back, however, with five straight points. Oak Ridge had a 12-10 lead before tallying the final three points.
Despite the loss, Farris was pleased to see her players rally after falling behind big in the final game.
“That was good,” she said. “Obviously, that was what we wanted to see — not giving up and making sure we’re still taking care of our side of the court. We did a good job of that, but we’ve just got to be able to finish the match, though.”
Madison Hall led the attack for Oak Ridge with 10 kills. Kylee Curl added nine kills and 12 digs, and Tori Perduk also had nine kills. Alex Singleton finished with eight kills and 12 digs, and Alex Bull finished with five kills and four blocks. Piper Boydstun had 18 assists and 11 digs, and Fowler added 10 assists, 11 digs and three aces. Julia Neveu finished with a team-high 21 digs.
Brynn Botkin led Magnolia with 17 kills and 16 digs, while Reina King added 11 kills. Ellie Anderson finished with 10 kills, and Marissa Moffatt had seven kills and 11 digs. Faith Lynch had 27 assists and six digs, and Chloe Richards had 20 assists and nine digs. Fojt paced the defensive efforts with a team-high 25 digs.
Oak Ridge returns to action at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against Huntsville. Magnolia, meanwhile, opens District 19-5A action at 6 p.m. the same day at College Station.