When the Woodland volleyball team played at Cass less than two weeks ago, Wildcat senior Noelle Dickey suffered an injury and had to miss the second set of her team's straight-set loss to the Colonels.
To be clear, her presence wouldn't have necessarily turned that defeat into a win. Woodland dropped the first set decisively with her, and Cass had won the teams' two previous meetings in the Bartow County Championships, as well.
But Dickey made the most of the rivals' fourth matchup of the season, proving to be a difference-maker late in the third set of a 25-18, 19-25, 25-18 home win on Woodland's senior night. One of two seniors on the Wildcats, along with Emmaline Payne, Dickey had two kills in a four-point span — the second of which gave Woodland a 21-15 lead.
Dickey, who had three kills, four digs and three aces in her well-rounded match, used a couple of her spinning southpaw serves to close out the match and finally allow Woodland to get the better of Cass.
"We felt the first three times we played them, we would play one good set and one bad set or one good set and two bad sets," Wildcat head coach David Condon said. "We never felt like we put together two good sets when we played them. This time, I feel like we were able to do that, and that's how we came away with the result."
Woodland led early in the first set before Cass rallied to tie the score at 9-9. The Wildcats answered with an 11-3 run. After the Colonels had scored four straight points to halve the deficit, the home team finished things out with a kill by Caroline Gore and an ace by Macey Vaughn.
The teams split the first 20 points of the second set. Cass senior Alexis Ware had a pair of kills on either side of a successful spike by Woodland's Sydney Molinaro. The second kill by Ware spurred a 7-1 burst from the Colonels.
The Wildcats managed to get back within 19-18, but the Colonels rattled off six of the next seven points with a pair of aces by Makina Gorham providing the final two.
"We knew the second set that a lot of it was us — a lot of unforced errors," Condon said. "They weren't doing anything different. We were just hurting ourselves. Boom, we corrected that our third set and it made the difference."
Molinaro and Gore had back-to-back kills to set the tone early in the third set. Cass rallied behind three aces in a four-point span from Harmony Carr. Ware added a pair of aces later in the set, but Woodland countered with two kills from Payne and a couple of aces from Gore, who led the Wildcats with nine kills, four digs and three aces in the match.
Molinaro, who finished with five kills, three blocks and two aces, had an outstanding diving dig that turned into a outstanding diving kill, as the ball looped over the net and landed just inside the line. The moment, which happened with the score tied 14-14, seemed to be the turning point in the pivotal set.
Vaughn, who a stellar match with 17 assists, four digs and two aces, followed with an ace and Molinaro had a block to give Woodland a four-point edge. That's when Dickey started to take over and send the Wildcats to a much-needed victory.
"It improves our region standing, so we won't go in at the bottom of the region standings," Condon said. "... That's good we won't be at the bottom of the region, but, at the same time, we've got to elevate our level of play when it is region. We don't do that every time, so that's something we're going to address in practice."
Following the thrilling win over its neighbor and its senior-night festivities, Woodland fell in straight sets to Rome by scores of 25-12 and 25-13. Sophomores Vaughn (seven assists, three digs) and Molinaro (three kills, ace) led the Wildcats in the defeat.
"We're not getting the consistency we were getting at the beginning of the season from some our young players, our sophomores," Condon said of his team's recent struggles. "That comes with immaturity, a lack of confidence and a lack of experience. I'm going to have to have individual discussions with them, saying 'You can do this.' ... I know them individually, and I know they can be better than that."
On the other court, Cass nearly recovered from its disappointing loss to Woodland. However, the Colonels faltered down the stretch in another tough three-set defeat — this one to Hiram.
It represented a frustrating night for the Colonels, who could have easily left Woodland's gym with two key wins.
"We've beat them every time we've played them this year, but it's always been close," Cass head coach Alan Potter said of Woodland. "... I look at that as pretty much a draw. We're pretty evenly matched and both teams play the same style, so I count that as a kind of a break-even thing.
"Against Hiram, silly mistakes killed us. The first set we lost, there were six balls hit out of bounds and five hit into the net. That's 11 points we just can't recover from."
Despite dropping a hard-fought first set to the Hornets, 25-21, the Colonels bounced back to force a winner-take-all scenario with a 25-20 triumph in the second set.
An ace by Carr helped Cass to an early 4-2 advantage. Hiram responded with a 9-0 run to take control of the set. Consecutive kills by Blaire Waters pulled the Colonels within 16-13, and Ware had a kill later on to trim the Hornets' lead to 20-17. Riley Nelson's kill had Cass within 21-19 before Hiram ran off the final four points needed to close out the victory.
The most frustrating thing for Potter was clearly the unforced errors that gifted the Hornets several points and allowed Hiram to hold the momentum for most of the first and third sets.
Even though the self-inflicted mistakes are often the easiest to correct, Potter knows his team doesn't have a lot of time left in the season to fix the issues.
"Unfortunately, we're about to run out of time for the self-fixes," he said. "... Yes, hopefully, those are things we can work on in practice, but there comes a time when it's too late. There's a time when saying, 'Leave it all out on the court,' doesn't matter any more, because the season's over. ... We'll practice everything we saw tonight that we did incorrectly. Hopefully, we can come out on top of the next couple of matches we have."
Adairsville falls in straight sets
The Adairsville volleyball team lost 25-14, 25-8 to Calhoun on Tuesday.
Thursday, the Tigers will host senior night against Darlington and Gilmer.