Momentum swung Saturday not in its typical guise of runs of points, but in full-set chunks.
Fortunately for Fort Lewis College, it swung Skyhawk in odd-numbered games.
FLC volleyball got its offense on track in games 1, 3 and 5 to pick up a key 3-2 win over Western State in its annual Pink Digs for the Cure match Saturday night at Whalen Gymnasium.
In kind of a surreal, elongated game of momentum tug-of-war, the Skyhawks pulled hardest in a 26-24 opening game win, then the Mountaineers pulled back 25-17. Then FLC again 25-19, followed by Western State 25-18.
“I know, what was that? ... It did; it shifted dramatically (Saturday),” FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said.
Play ping-ponged back and forth in the decisive set before FLC locked up a 15-13 win on a Mountaineers’ service error.
Defensive specialist was the Halloween costume du jour Saturday, as digs came from all angles, including from usual front-line folks. FLC outdug Western State 89 to 79.
Libero Jenna Kinzer led the way for FLC with 24 digs, while outside hitter Ashley Wells had 20 to go with a game-high 17 kills. Setter Ciara Krening had 15 and 46 assists, and Hannah Starbuck chipped in 14 digs for FLC.
Sami Fuentes led Western State with 17, and Molly Dolson had 16.
“It was definitely a defensive struggle,” Krening said. “I think as much as we’ve been working on our defense at practice, it’s definitely paying off. And I think we’re committing to it so much, it’s working now.”
In the sets they lost, the Skyhawks were done in by tip kills and a stellar service game by Western State that threw FLC’s passing game way out of whack.
“Their serving was really effective. I give them a lot of credit,” Aaland said. “They play good defense, and they serve really aggressively. And, man, when we can’t pass, we can’t do anything else. It’s a basic volleyball truth.”
The end of the third set opened the door for Western State in the fourth. FLC led 20-9 before hanging on 25-19 against a furious Mountaineer rally. The ensuing tug of momentum carried Western State to a lead as big as six on multiple occasions in a fourth-set victory as FLC mustered just a -.154 attack percentage.
“When we had that big lead, and they came back, it’s never a good thing, regardless of what time of the game it is,” Aaland said. “Any time a team can build momentum back is scary.”
The night could’ve had a decidedly different outcome if not for a quick burst at the end of the first set. The Skyhawks (10-13, 6-9 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference), who had jumped out to a large lead only to let it slip in the first set, faced set point down 24-23 but got a Stephani Sonka kill, a Kinzer ace and a Starbuck kill to pick up the win.
But the momentum betrayed them from there. The Mountaineers (3-20, 2-13 RMAC) stormed to an 11-5 lead in the second set and never looked back.
The victory kept FLC on track, too, as the Skyhawks look to earn an RMAC Tournament berth with four matches to go. They’ll hit the road to do it, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction.
“I think this game and this win definitely set the tone for the next couple of games, now that we know that we can pull a game out that’s this kind of play and this kind of momentum and know that we can do it,” Krening said.