On the verge of the worst implosion of their high school careers, the Cougars survived three match points and pulled out some magic against Bishop Gorman in a Division I state semifinal at Galena High.
Spanish Springs stopped a freefall that spanned over two and a half games and advanced to today’s state championship match by downing Gorman 25-18, 25-21, 12-25, 19-25, 17-15.
“We’re just making our season as long as possible. It’s pretty unbelievable. I don’t know how they did it,” SSHS volleyball coach Frank Sandomenico said.
The Cougars claimed the first two sets of the match, only to watch the Gaels storm back and cruise to easy wins in sets three and four. It was similar to the self-destruction Spanish Springs experienced in the regional final against Bishop Manogue.
This time, the Cougars emerged victorious.
Gorman jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the fifth and decisive game, following a spike into the net by the Cougars. Spanish Springs called timeout, but it only managed a sideout. The Gaels increased their edge to a game-high 7-3 margin.
Gorman was still up by three, 11-8, after a block.
Spanish Springs called its final timeout and immediately earned a sideout thanks to a Melly Munley kill. Munley finished with a school record 25 kills, but really struggled in the games the Cougars lost.
Another block by Gorman made it a 12-9 game, but Munley answered with another kill. Then Rachel Loadholt followed with one of her 15 kills, and Gorman called its first timeout since the second set.
It didn’t help.
The Gaels’ big hitter, Emma Kirst, hit a spike into the net, knotting the game at 12 points apiece.
Kirst made amends by knocking down a kill and combined with Sierra Scoggins for a block, bringing Gorman to within one point of the come-from-behind win.
With their backs against the wall and facing two match points, the Cougars let a Gaels serve go wide. Trailing 14-13, Munley came up with a huge dig on a booming spike that led to a game-tying kill by Loadholt.
Francesca Manz laid down a cross-court kill, giving Gorman its third match point, but two miss-hits gave the lead back to the SSHS spikers, and Munley finished off the improbable win with a kill from the back row.
“She just willed them to the win,” Sandomenico said of Munley’s performance.
Spanish Springs was well in control of the match after taking the first two sets.
Game 1 saw some nerves affect Spanish Springs right off the bat. Bishop Gorman’s Gianna Ruggeroli slammed and overpass and then blocked an overpass when the Cougars could not return serves, giving Gorman a 2-0 lead.
Spanish Springs settled down and tied the game up at 3-3 following a Gabby Szachara kill. The North’s runner-up took its first lead at 4-3 thanks to a crosscourt kill by Munley.
But the Gaels regained control of the first set and made Spanish Springs play catch-up. The Cougars were very successful playing from behind.
Trailing 11-8 after Ruggeroli blasted a kil, Spanish Springs tallied five of the next six points to regain the lead, 13-12, its first edge since it was 5-4.
Back-to-back kills by Anna Dondero and Kirst handed the advantage back to Gorman, 14-13. However, that was its last lead of the first game.
The Cougars strung together four unanswered points, surging ahead 17-14 and forcing a Gaels timeout. The stoppage of play worked in the favor of the Sunset Region champs as they cut the deficit to one, 17-16. Still, they could not earn a tie.
A kill by Briana Parrish pushed the gap to four points, 21-17 and led to another Gorman timeout. The Gaels recorded a sideout, but that would be their last point as Spanish Springs ended the first set with a 4-0 run thanks to a pair of kills by Loadholt, an ace by Hannah Meadows and a quick tip over by Lyndsey Anderson.
Game 2 was a battle between the teams.
Through the first half of the set, the largest advantage by either team was Spanish Springs’ 7-4 lead.
Gorman gained momentum when three straight miss-hits by the Cougs left the Purple and Silver in a 14-12 deficit.
Spanish Springs knotted the game at 14-14, and then took the lead for good in what turned out top be a 7-0 rally. That left the visitors with a 19-14 lead. They would enjoy a five-point cushion four times in the second set before settling for the 25-21 win.
In Game 3, Ruggeroli closed out the set with a kill, accounting for the largest gap of the game, 13 points. Gorman couldn’t pad its cushion to double digits in the fourth set, but did get it to a 19-10 score. Spanish Springs couldn’t get closer than four points the rest of the way.
Anderson handed out 41 assists, while Meadows had 16.
Spanish Springs will take on Sunrise Region champ and defending state title holder Green Valley today at 4 p.m.