It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
EAGLE POINT — Up 24-21 in the third set, Ashland looked ready to take control of its Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A rivalry match against Eagle Point.
One problem. The Eagles were just getting warmed up.
Eagle Point fought off six set points in a marathon third set, then carried that momentum through the fourth for a 19-25, 25-21, 30-28, 25-18 victory Tuesday in front of a jam-packed crowd at the Eagle Point High gym.
Brianna Shopp had nine kills and 16 digs, Taylor Bidwell had 10 kills and McKenzee Parker had 20 assists and two aces as the Eagles (1-1) took the first of three scheduled matches against their only league rivals in dramatic fashion.
"Even if it is the last point, you don't give up, and they didn't," Eagle Point coach Elizabeth Bilden said. "Coming off Roseburg, being able to go from that low-low to this high-high is something that you can't describe. They're all on cloud nine right now."
Jordan Tilley had 26 assists, Shelby Minor 14 kills and Amanda Wurzell 28 digs to lead Ashland, which was playing its first match of the season.
The Grizzlies cruised through the first set and stumbled through the second but were in great position to take a two-sets-to-one lead after a service error by Kelly Brawner gave Ashland a 24-21 cushion.
But Eagle Point won the next three points — the last on Kinsey Bradshaw's monster block versus Natalie Acheatel — and the Eagles proceeded to fight off three more set points before taking their first lead since 16-15 on a net violation. Ashland tied it up one last time, 28-all, on a dink kill by Minor, but the Eagles won the next two points, clinching the set on a free-ball error.
The momentum seemed to carry over into the fourth. Eagle Point won five of the first six points and trailed only once, at 9-8, before using a crucial three-point burst to go up 20-16.
A service error allowed the Grizzlies to get as close as 21-18, but the Eagles once again closed strong. Consecutive hitting errors by Ashland clinched the match for Eagle Point, setting off a raucous celebration.
"It was amazing," said EP senior setter Hannah Morris, who had nine assists and two of Eagle Point's six aces. "It's important to start our season off like this and now we're just going to keep going."
"I think it was just adrenaline," Bilden said of Eagle Point's strong finish after taking the third game. "We had pure adrenaline going our way and they kept that momentum going."
For Ashland, it was a heartbreaking way to start its season, especially after the Grizzlies opened the match with such promise, winning 10 of the first 13 points in what turned out to be a first-set rout.
But the Eagles turned it around quickly, jumping out to an 8-1 lead in the second set to eradicate any momentum the Grizzlies had built.
Shopp had seven-point service runs in the second (including two aces) and third sets, and Parker added a spike to the floor in the second-set rally.
"(Eagle Point) definitely picked up their game and got in a groove," Ashland coach Robin Akpan said. "And at that point I feel like our experience — this being our first game — we weren't quite in that rhythm of being able to change the tide. I think it's about us being able to go home now and work on that, and figure out what we need to be able to do to change the momentum back to our side."