CONCORDIA, Kansas — With three KJCCC East matches remaining, and needing to win out inside the conference for a chance to keep its postseason hopes alive, the Cloud County Community College volleyball team answered the bell Wednesday evening with a five-set thriller (24-26, 25-22, 24-26, 25-17, 15-11) against Neosho County Community College.
Cloud County (16-14 overall, 2-6 KJCCC East), which now sits in a five-way in the standings with two conference wins, came back from 1-0 and 2-1 match deficits to upend the visiting fifth-place Panthers (16-18 overall, 4-4 KJCCC East).
"It was nice to see us rise to the occasion and take our game up another step," said Cloud County head coach, Deb Monzon. "Those two sets we lost (both by scores of 26-24) are heartbreaking ones to lose. But the girls didn't dwell on them and kept moving forward. I'm proud of the way they played (Wednesday)."
Cloud County held a 23-20 lead in Set Three but were unable to close the door as Neosho County rallied back to win the set, 26-24 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
The T-Birds bounced back to earn a comfortable 25-17 win in Set Four, setting the stage for the eventual 15-11 win in set five that saw Cloud County lead by as many as eight points.
"I told the girls 'It's very important we get going here quick. We don't have time to just settle in and see what's going to happen,'" Monzon said. "I thought we did a really nice job in that fifth set stepping on the floor, not being in a hurry, but playing with a sense of urgency that we needed to go win right now."
Stastically, it was a banner day for the T-Birds as they set a number of career highs, as well as season highs in team kills (73) and digs (86).
Freshman outside hitter Dayana Chara led all Cloud County players with a career-high 23 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Giovanna Fundaro also eclipse a career-high in kills with 18 — eight coming in the fourth set — and added 15 digs.
"We've continued to quicken the offense up, especially for Giovanna. She's not the jumper Dayana is but she's a very effective hitter. She just needs the ball given to her with a little quicker pace," Monzon said. "I thought we did a very good job of doing that."
Concordia native Jessica Williams was the third T-Bird in double-figures as she powered down 12 kills, which marked her highest total since finishing with 13 kills on September 10 against Cowley. Fellow freshmen Haven Hamilton and Shelby Ohlde each added eight kills.
Defensively, sophomore Britt Michaelis, who set Cloud County's single season digs record a season ago (450), popped up a season-high 28 digs; one off her career-high of 29 set in last season's finale against Dodge City.
Fellow defensive specialist, freshman Willow Hunt, tied Fundaro with 15 digs to anchor a Cloud County backrow that was nails on Wednesday night.
"Britt has really turned things on lately," Monzon said. "She has really stepped up and Willow has been very consistent for us. I feel really confident with either Britt or Willow as our libero right now. I wish we could have two liberos to keep them on the floor all the time."
Cloud County will get a quick break from KJCCC East action when it takes on an old KJCCC West foe, Butler Community College, this Friday in El Dorado. The match is scheduled to get underway at 6:30 p.m.
Friday's road trip to Butler will be the third meeting between the Grizzlies and T-Birds this season, with Cloud County winning 3-1 in each of the first two matchups.
"I expect we'll see a better Butler team (than earlier in the season)," Monzon said. "We should go in with confidence, but it's difficult to beat a team three times in one season. We're going to have to continue to step up our play and make sure we go in there playing our top game."