The Maplewood Tigers celebrate winning match point at the end of the fifth set against Conneaut Area on Thursday.

GUYS MILLS — Oct. 15, 2020 was a date that the Maplewood girls volleyball team had marked on their calendar since the final week of September after getting swept by the Conneaut Area Eagles in a match that the Tigers would admit was not their best effort.

“Twenty-six,” the number of unforced errors in the loss, was the number that the Tigers kept in the back of their minds since that Sept. 22 match, and looked to keep to a minimum in Thursday’s rematch at The Woodshed. And, Maplewood did just that on their way to a 25-17, 22-25, 25-27, 25-19, 15-11 Region 4 win.

Chloe Leech led the offense with 22 kills, while Sadie Thomas added 19 kills. Bailey Varndell chipped in 40 assists. Maplewood served up 10 aces, with Thomas having five of those. Defensively, Leech totaled 19 digs, while Thomas and Madison Crawford each tallied 10 digs. McKenna Crawford added eight digs.

“I put a little fire under them,” Maplewood coach Shelia Bancroft said. “I told them that the last time we played them we had 26 unforced errors. It was horrible and ugly. All they were thinking was that they wanted another chance to play them again. Yes, (CASH) is a good team, and good teams make you do that, but it was by-far the worst match we played in years.”

With fans in the stands for this highly anticipated rematch, the energy in the gymnasium was filled to the brim. CASH stormed out to an early 3-1 advantage before the Tigers earned seven of the ensuing eight points. With an 8-4 lead, Maplewood kept playing in front the remainder of the opening frame, although CASH recorded a couple of three-point clips down the stretch. 

CASH used that small burst to propel itself to a 14-5 lead in set two. A pair of five-point Tiger runs helped the home team make its deficit dwindle to 20-18 but the visiting Eagles stood tall to even up the match.

Neither side had more than a two-point lead until in the latter portion of set three. Maplewood held a slim 19-18 advantage before CASH grabbed the next five tallies. Two points away from trailing 2-1, the Tigers rallied back to score the next five points to force set point. A service error kept CASH alive before Maplewood forced another set point ahead 25-24.

On the ensuing play, a controversial no-call on what appeared to be a carry by the CASH front line allowed play to continue on the point, and the Eagles tied the score again at 25-25. The Maplewood bench and pro-Tigers crowd were vocal after the no-call, while the Eagles responded with the next two points to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

Despite the call not going their way, Maplewood had to immediately forget about it and play on. Bancroft said after the match that, “it was a carry.”

“I said that (the call) was over and we had to move on,” Bancroft said. “We couldn’t dwell on it and, if anything, let it put a little fire under you coming out in game four. We came back and it was ours to steal. You don’t win or lose on calls, and we were mentally able to come back.”

Maplewood notched the first point in the fourth set when Avery Brunot smashed a kill after a quality dig from Leech. That seemed the settle the Tigers back into the contest, although the two clubs were still tied after the first 20 points.

With Thomas at the service line, the Tigers worked for five of the next six points to take control of the set. Even though CASH cut its deficit to two points, at 20-18, another 5-1 run that ended with a Leech kill knotted the match at 2-2.

Two Thomas kills opened the decisive fifth set before CASH got those two back quickly. Maplewood then began to pull away with stretches of three and four points before a Thomas dig sailed over the net and past the CASH back row for the match’s final point.

“I don’t want to single anyone out because everyone played great, and we played some defense,” Bancroft said. “(Cassidy) Snider is phenomenal. She is the best player I’ve seen come out of Crawford County. We knew she was going to get her kills, but we needed to get a few digs and a few touches on her ball, and I think we did.”

The victory gives the Tigers (11-2 overall) and the Eagles identical 8-1 records in region play with three region matches left for both teams. Even though at least a share of the Region 4 title is in sight and the Tigers are riding high with their eight-match win streak, Bancroft realizes there are still tough opponents left on the schedule, beginning on Saturday when the Tigers host Fort LeBoeuf and Grove City for a tri-match.

“We still have some good teams to play,” Bancroft said. “We can’t say, ‘this is a gimme and we’re co-champs now.’ We have some good volleyball to play. We have to stay focused on one match at a time. Saturday’s matches are big for us, and there’s still a lot of things we can still do better.”

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