Sometimes you don’t have to be good, just lucky.
The Nation Ford volleyball team was a little of both against the Mauldin Mavericks — and the Falcons’ performance proved to be enough to advance them to the Upper State championship, winning 3-1 on the road in the third round of the 5A state playoffs.
“That was the hardest match we have played all year,” Nation Ford head coach Carrie Christian said. “We didn’t play our best, but we played together.”
Service errors in the third and fourth sets of the match hurt the Falcons, as it allowed Mauldin to stay in the match and kept things competitive. Nation Ford dropped the first set 25-23, like it did in the round before, but then won the next three: 25-17, 25-20 and 25-23.
The Falcons will now play the Dorman Cavaliers for the Upper State championship on Nov. 5 at home.
Nation Ford took early command in the opening set and went up 16-11 before a Mauldin timeout. Out of the break, the Falcons would go on to extend that lead. Mauldin held tough and kept the first set within five points, but a strong command at the net for the Falcons and strong kills allowed Nation Ford to start pulling away.
The Mavericks were also strong at the net when it came to blocks and clawed their way back into the match at 20-17 before a Nation Ford timeout.
The timeout was helpful, despite the tight play, as the Falcons pushed their lead to 23-17, but Mauldin rallied again to score five straight points and force another Nation Ford timeout, Mauldin kept the momentum and won the next three points to take the first set 25-23.
“We were worried too much about their blocks, and we were making too many errors,” Christian said.
Second and third sets: Nation Ford strong at net
The second set was much like the first in the early going with both teams trading points back-and-forth as Nation Ford took a light edge over Mauldin, 5-2. In moments the Falcons struggled, they were saved by their overwhelming strength at the net, exploiting their height advantage with players like Sophie Fischer and Kennedy Martin.
Nation Ford pushed its lead to 13-7 before a timeout by Mauldin, but the Mavericks continued to rally and keep things close, scoring eight of 11 points to make it a one-point game at 16-15 before a Falcons timeout.
Out of the timeout, Nation Ford allowed itself some breathing room and scored six of the next seven points to make it 22-16 before Mauldin then took a pause to try and regroup. It would be of no avail though — and Nation Ford would win the set 25-17 to tie the match at 1-1.
The third set started with four service errors in the first five points between the two teams. Mauldin took a slight 7-5 lead over the Falcons, but then Nation Ford tied it right back up.
The Mavericks’ strengths on returns and kills in the third set was the difference early on for the Mauldin. Nation Ford struggled to return those kills, but was able to bolster its defense at the net to make things competitive. Mauldin on the other hand struggled to cleanly return serves from Nation Ford which allowed the Falcons to score four consecutive points to make it 12-10 before a Mauldin timeout.
Nation Ford scored four out of the next six points out of the timeout, yet, the Mavericks stayed close. The Falcons scored six of the final seven points in the match to close out the third set with a 25-20 win and take a 2-1 lead.
Fourth set: Nation Ford service errors
Service errors were a struggle for Nation Ford to start the fourth set as they went down 6-4 early. Mauldin also struggled with returns and hitting shots long. The Mavericks, however, kept the Falcons on their toes and proceeded to take a 9-5 lead before a Nation Ford timeout. Mauldin capitalized on some luck breaks out of the timeout and scored three straight points to make it 12-5.
The Mavericks kept the pressure on Nation Ford, who struggled to keep pace as they fell behind 16-10. Nation Ford would pull within three on a couple occasions, but couldn’t get over the hump until the end of the set, as the team would score four of five points to tie the match at 22 before a Mauldin timeout.
Christian said her team knew what it had to do once the match was tied at 22 — and it did. Nation Ford scored three of the match’s final four points, capped off by a Fischer game-winning kill.
The Falcons took the fourth set, 25-23, and punched their ticket to the Upper State championship.
“They know we have to stay aggressive,” she said. “We had to just accept our errors and keep playing.”
Mac Banks: email@example.com, @MacBanksFM