PARK HILLS — The Mineral Area College volleyball team became engaged in another fierce test of resolve after a dominant sequence of plays helped rival Jefferson force a decisive fifth game Wednesday night.
But the Lady Cardinals regrouped under intense pressure at home, erased three match points while getting crucial contributions from several sources, and celebrated a thrilling 20-25, 25-18, 25-17, 14-25, 19-17 victory.
An intense final rally concluded when a lunging dig by Sami Meyer drifted toward Natalie Gremaud, who instantly sprang from a stationary stance to turn and deflect a spike off an unsuccessful double-block.
“I’ve been working on attacking and where to hit it when the other setter gets the first ball,” Gremaud said. “I saw that play develop and just took the opportunity. It worked out in my favor.”
Freshman middle Erin Wolford delivered two clutch plays down the stretch, drawing MAC even at 16-16 with a pivotal stuff-block before tipping through two sets of hands to negate the next match point.
Liza Gray saw her playing time increase as the action transpired, and spiked her eighth kill to level the score at 15-15.
Sophomore libero Danielle Guseman recorded 13 digs, and was perfect on serve receive when Mineral Area (3-4) stood one mistake away from tasting defeat. Kayla Thibodeaux added 17 assists and 10 digs.
Game five featured 13 ties with neither team holding a lead larger than two points. Jefferson (2-4) unleashed its third missed serve of the decisive stanza after jumping ahead 10-8.
Ottesey Nathan collected 11 kills and Mikah Simpson added 10 for the Vikings. A kill from Victoria Bowens sent the match into the equivalent of overtime after her previous error had put MAC ahead 14-13.
Mineral Area began to seize momentum early in game two. Brittany Collins, who totaled most of her nine kills from the left side, smashed back-to-back spikes down the line for a 6-4 lead.
The change in fortune was the result of attacking the entire court surface after Jefferson won a battle of power in the opening set.
“I told the girls ‘They are big. But usually bigger and taller girls don’t move as well. So corner shots are going to be open and tips left and right will also be open behind the blockers,’” MAC head coach Tim Copeland said. “We tried resorting to that strategy a little more, but not to where we lived on it.”
The Vikings picked up two aces from libero Alex Pierce to complete their comeback from 9-5 down. But Gremaud led a strong MAC response, finding several openings in the defense with pinpoint 2-handed placement.
“They were cheating up a little bit, so as a team we tried shooting for the corners,” said Gremaud, who compiled team highs with 12 kills, 26 assists and 13 digs. “We were able to get some big points that way.”
Mineral Area was rewarded for staying aggressive in game three. Marissa Schroeder and Hanna Glastetter combined for a block, and each added kills while helping to build a spacious 15-6 lead.
Jefferson carried the pace in game four with active defense and efficient hitting. Marissa Cage and Martyna Mersinska combined to knock down four straight kills near the midway juncture.
The Lady Cardinals had already endured their share of marathon matches this fall. They dropped 5-game battles last month against SE Iowa and Iowa Central by the minimum final margin of two points.
Mineral Area has already improved upon last season’s winless record in Region 16 play. Jefferson pulled out the narrowest of victories at the Bob Sechrest Fieldhouse before controlling the 2012 rematch in Hillsboro.
“That 2-point loss from last year definitely crossed my mind,” Copeland said. “It was a battle the whole way. In my mind, this could be a stepping stone for us to move forward, gain confidence and grow as a young team.”
A natural geographic rivalry between the junior colleges is enhanced this year as each roster contains former high school teammates from Windsor, Festus and Advance.