RM girls volleyball beats Blair in five-set thriller


Ryan Choi

It was a match of great proportions and excitement on Wednesday as the RM Rockets took on the Blair Blazers.
Coach Gretchen Barber-Strunk pointed out that “…with Blair it’s always a battle.”

“In the past three years, we’ve always gone to five sets every time we played them, so we came into this match knowing it wasn’t gonna be easy,” she continued.

And she held true to her words. It was a battle.

At 6:40 the match began with RM up to serve, with Blair demonstrating ferocity and great defense from the beginning. RM’s #22 player, Pin-Hsuan Wu showed great skills at the net, but nevertheless, Blair was the first to deal a heavy blow to RM, moving to 11-13 in the Blazers’ favor.

From then on, it seemed like a definite win of the first set for Blair, but the RM team grasped a slim foothold in the set as they soon reduced the deficit from 11-17 to 15-18. The Blazers were there to fight though as they held onto their lead, much due to the help RM was giving through free points. As the RM team was striving to gain a lead and momentum, they attributed many key mistakes leading to an unfortunate showing of 18-24, with set point on the Blazers’ serve.

After what seemingly might have been a set gone to RM, Blair finally ended up closing the first set, 21-25 at 7:05.

A newfound energy was felt among the Rockets as the second set began. Senior player, Pin-Hsuan Wu, displayed a motivated mentality to her teammates. Nice serves from RM and excellent set up and spikes led to quick lead of 9-3. #15 freshman Laila Rogers, at times, during the second set, imposed her athleticism and tall stature with her powerful spikes.

However, the set soon took a turn for the worse. Surprisingly, a loss of focus and many mistakes from the RM team quickly produced a 13-13 tie. The score became 14-15, then 15-17, and then 15-20. Coach Gretchen Barber-Strunk called for a timeout after their loss of the lead.

Photo by Maddie Franke
Photo by Maddie Franke

The timeout and regroup from RM seemed to give no incentive for the Blazers to give in, rather only more motivation to close out. The amazing defense they displayed was simply a nightmare for the RM team. Missed spikes and an overall mediocre performance from the Rockets gave rise to a shocking end to the second set: 19-25.

Contrary to what occurred in the beginning of the second set, RM was off to a lackluster start with a score of 0-3. The Blair serve caused confusion among the Rockets, and so, with a number of free points scored by the Blazers, the Rockets succumbed to a 1-6 deficit.

What was unforgettable about the match, though, was the spirit of the RM home crowd, and at times like this, spurred a nice energy boost for the Rockets. This along with the heavy cheers from senior Pin-Hsuan Wu gradually presented a strong showing in the third set for RM. The girls caught up both in terms of the score and mentality, which soon reached its full potential.

Eager to win the set, RM stepped up by adopting more aggressive measures. A clutch serve by #2 junior Belinda Lin made the score 20-20 and what followed captured everyone’s attention.

Another spike from freshman Laila Rogers resonated throughout the gym, putting the Blazers in an uncomfortable position to attack. The heavy, one-shot play by Rogers simply awed the crowd and left the Blazers in silence. The aggressiveness and risky measures soon paid off for the Rockets; the score was now 24-23, in their favor.

A lengthy, dramatic final rally of the third set ended with a showing of nice hands and instinct at the net from #16 junior Arielle Etedgi: 25-23 at 8:07.

The fourth set began with momentum on RM’s side. However, trouble amassed in the beginning stages of the set. At 2-6, RM chose to fight back with two defining strikes made by #3 junior Lisa Yang and #16 junior Arielle Etedgi to help level the set at 6-6.

The back and forth exchange of leads followed. RM’s tenacity effort to win the match seemed to cause a mess in the Blazers’ mentality. A number of shots from Blair were called out, giving RM the lead they wanted, 14-10.

After a tough last set and a half, the fourth set came with gradual ease for the Rockets. Nicely positioned serves, strategic plays, and just a outburst of new motivation from the Rockets finalized the set in a win, at 25-13.

The off showing from RM in the first two sets was soon erased from their memory as the fifth set began with their colossal momentum generated throughout the match. And it definitely showed.

A number of excellent spikes and killers by RM’s Laila Rogers consolidated RM’s early lead over the Blazers and finally, it was over. 8:56, and it was 15-11 in the fifth set.

Photo by Maddie Franke
Photo by Maddie Franke

Rogers exclaimed that there were many tense moments in the match but “what was going through [her] mind was to win.” She eagerly put that “[she] wanted to help [her] team out and do everything [she] could for [them] to win.”

As for the moments when those tense moments got through to the players’ mentality and play, Coach Gretchen Barber-Strunk reflected, stating, “The first two sets were rough for us. I don’t think we played good. But they didn’t play poorly. They just weren’t able to finish. Today the set four that you saw was an ideal practice, what I know these girls can do. We struggled to find that togetherness sometimes.”

That “togetherness” was emulated by senior Pin-Hsuan Wu’s inspiring words: “If people see you really depressed then they’ll just go down with you but if you pull through and be an optimist and say that you got this cause you believe in your team, that’s when everyone believes in you.”

When asked for how the team would perform against their next match against Northwood on September 23, she simply stated, “Northwood, we got this. After what we did in the last three sets, we can pull through.”

Featured photo by Maddie Franke.