At a casual glance, the Toledo Christian volleyball team's three-game sweep at Cardinal Stritch last night may seem to have been a romp.
It was anything but.
The Eagles had to battle for their 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 victory in a match where the first two games were as tight as the scores would indicate.
"It's always such a battle against Stritch," Toledo Christian coach Dave Conley said. "They're such great competitors, and they're well-coached. They just scratch and claw for everything."
In the first game the teams were neck-and-neck until Toledo Christian broke a 15-15 tie with back-to-back kills by Sara Schweer and Maggie Busch. Cardinal Stritch cut the Eagles' lead to a single point seven times after that, but the Cardinals never were able to get the point that would re-tie the game.
In the second game the roles were reversed. Stritch broke a 12-12 tie by scoring four of the next five points. Two of those points came on kills by Kristin Zbierajewski, who finished with 10. Brittney Bradner led the Cardinals with 12 kills.
But the Eagles found a way to come back. Trailing 22-20, they scored five of the game's final six points, including two on aces by Sarah Evans, to take a 2-0 lead into the third game.
"Sometimes you just get points on momentum," Stritch coach Tracy Donnelly said. "You get rolling down the hill and score a lot of points, then you make a mistake and the other team gets rolling.
"[Losing the second game] took a lot of air out of our sails. We were really flat in the third game, and we didn't play nearly as well as we did in the first two games."
Conley agreed that the second-game comeback was the key to the match.
"We really wanted the second game because in recent matches they usually got us [in that game]," he said. "That was one of the best games I've seen inside a match.
"We wanted to carry our intensity and focus through all three games because we didn't want them to come back against us. We know they're a good team that's going to fight for everything, so we didn't want to give them any momentum."
In the third game the Eagles took control, snapping a 9-9 tie by scoring five unanswered points. Cardinal Stritch came no closer than two points the rest of the way.
"I think we had a lot of momentum going into the third game, and we didn't want to let go of that," said Busch, who finished with a game-high 16 kills. "We wanted to finish hard, and it was good that we did that."
The Eagles improved to 13-2 overall and clinched at least a tie for the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title with their 8-0 mark. Cardinal Stritch, TC's nearest competitor, now is two games back at 14-4 and 6-2.
"We have to stay focused and take care of business, and hopefully we'll come out undefeated," Conley said.
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