The first half of September was a rather memorable one for the Seward County Lady Saints volleyball team. A 6-1 record including wins over #14 Pratt, their rivals Hutchinson, as well as a pair of victories over teams from the Lone Star State, had Seward off to a 9-2 start and a 3-0 record in Jayhawk West Conference play. The second half of the month wasn’t nearly as impressive as they went 1-7 and fell back in the pack in conference play but a thrilling 5 set win over the Hutchinson Blue Dragons in the Sports Arena on Wednesday made those memories fade into the background for a bit as they looked to have gotten things back on track.
It didn’t have the allure that a normal Seward/Hutch battle usually has with neither team playing particularly well and for the first time in a long time, neither team ranked inside the NJCAA top 20, but Wednesday night in Hutchinson’s Sports Arena still had the intensity of a rivalry match and from the momentum shifts to a tight finish, things were exciting to watch between the Lady Saints and Lady Dragons. The two teams went back and forth in the start of game one with neither team able to get out in front until the Lady Saints went on a 6-0 run with the game tied 10-10. The streak started with back to back kills from Aislyn Karney and coupled with a pair of hitting errors from Hutch and Seward kills from Sheina Fernandes and Courtney Geesing. Up 16-10 the Lady Saints were starting to get that good feeling back as the teams traded points to 17-11, but a Hutch kill and seven straight Seward errors quickly erased the Lady Saints lead and put the Blue Dragons ahead 18-17 and Seward could not stop the train that was now Hutchinson as Hutch would score 4 more points to make it 11 straight to take a 22-17 lead that the Lady Saints couldn’t overcome. Seward would get to within 3 at 22-19 but Hutch would score the last 3 in the game to take game one 25-19.
Hutchinson would carry the momentum over into game two as they pulled out to a 10-4 lead before Seward began to regroup. The Lady Saints would score six of the next seven points to climb to within one as Fernandes began to get hot. The reigning Jayhawk West Conference Freshman of the Year would pick up 5 kills and push Seward to a 15-13 advantage and force a Hutch timeout. With the lead still in Seward’s favor at 18-17, a service error would tie the game and Hutchinson would score two more points to take a 20-18 lead late. Seward would tie the game back up at 20 and then 21 but the Dragons would score four of the game’s final five points to take game two 25-22 and put the Lady Saints in a gaping 2-0 hole.
Thankfully on this night the Lady Saints were given just what the doctor ordered and that was a 10 minute break after the first two games. In a choice that is the host schools, Hutchinson routinely takes the break to support promotions and such but on this night it might have just been the thing that doomed their home team. The teams would play even out of the locker rooms to 9-9 but Seward would score four straight on the back of 3 straight kills from Fernandes to go ahead 13-9. The Lady Saints would hold that lead to 16-12 and would score the next two points on kills from Geesing and Stacie Carver to match their largest lead of the night at 18-12. The teams would go back and forth through the remainder of game three but it wasn’t enough for Hutch as Seward’s lead held and the Lady Saints went on to take it 25-18.
In game four, the Lady Saints would get out to a 3-0 lead and would keep the same distance from the Dragons until they were able to cut the lead to two and then one at 10-9. With the game again tight, Karney, Daiane Souza, and Fernandes picked up consecutive kills and an attack error from Hutch would put the Lady Saints up five at 14-9. Seward would continue to grow the lead, all the way up to 20-11 before Hutch could rebound but it was far too little too late as the Lady Saints went on to take game four 25-17 to force a deciding game five.
With all the momentum on their side, Seward again bolted out to a 3-0 lead in game five with everything on the line. They would keep that lead to 6-3 and then 9-6 with an ace from Madison Winkelman. The Lady Saint lead would grow to five with a service error from Hutch to make it 12-7 but the Dragons weren’t ready to give up in front of a jazzed up home crowed and cut the lead back to two with three straight points at 12-10. With Katie Marks at the service line, the Lady Saints scored the next two points and looked to be in control at 14-10 with four match points in front of them. With a late flurry the Lady Dragons knotted it up at 14 and looked to have regained the momentum they had lost earlier in the night but a crucial service error followed by a well placed hit from Geesing would seal their fate as the Lady Saints went on to take the game and the match with a 16-14 game five win.
Fernandes was dominate in the win for Seward, hammering a season high 22 kills down for the Lady Saints while also being a part of 4 of Seward’s 6 blocks in the contest. Geesing dialed up a well timed double double with 10 kills and 12 digs and Carver, Karney, and Isabela Silva would all finish the match with 8 kills. Souza led the team with 2 solo blocks to go along with a combo block with Fernandes and Winkelman and Marks both reached double digits in digs with 11 and 10 respectively. Maddy Taylor finished with a team high 29 assists to go along with an ace and 7 digs while Jordan Martin pitched in 12 assists and 3 digs.
The much needed win moves Seward to 4-3 in conference play and 11-9 overall on the season. It is the second straight season that the Lady Saints have went into the Sports Arena in Hutchinson and come away with a victory, something that they failed to do during the previous 8 seasons before that. Now through with the first half of conference play, the Lady Saints will set their eyes on the second half and a strong finish that will start Saturday when they travel to the renovated Beaver Dome in Pratt to take on a Lady Beaver squad who’s only conference loss this season came at the hands of Seward in early September.