BELMONT — On a night Belmont was honoring a young cancer survivor, the Lady Braves were not going to go down without a fight.
With a lot of area volleyball teams going pink in October for Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Braves opted to go blue with their “Tipping for Tessa” benefit for Tessa Carey, a four-year old Belmont girl with Down Syndrome who was diagnosed with leukemia in October of 2013 and has endured intense chemotherapy sessions to fight her disease.
The Braves held a benefit for Tessa and her parents, Dan and Becky Carey of Belmont, throughout the night, but they honored her even further by rallying from an 0–2 deficit to defeat the visiting Shullsburg Miners, 3–2, in a thrilling Six Rivers West match last Thursday.
“They could have given up at any point, but they continued to work hard,” said Belmont head coach Michelle Wedig, who went to school with Dan Carey at Belmont. “I think this game was really special for them because of the Tessa benefit. They really, really wanted to win this one for her.”
A victory seemed unlikely early on as the Miners (6–13 overall, 2–6 SRW) jumped out to a quick 2-0 advantage with wins of 25–18 and 25–17 over the Braves (5–11, 2–7).
However, the match was far from over. Belmont’s comeback started early in set three with an eight-point service run by junior Caitlyn Gilbertson, which snapped a 5–5 tie and build up a 13–5 lead. Shullsburg got as close as 19–16, but the Braves held on for a 25–20 win to stay alive.
“Anytime we can get the momentum on our side, it helps in every aspect of the game,” said Wedig. “The girls become more confident in their hitting, in their passing and in their serving.”
The Braves’ momentum continued to build throughout the fourth set and rose to a fever pitch at the end when back-to-back block kills by Gilbertson and senior Alie Klien closed out a 25–19 win to even the match at 2–2.
““We’ve struggled to finish any time we have to play five sets,” admitted Shullsburg’s interim coach Annie Timmerman, who is filling as varsity in during head coach Hannah Pick’s maternity leave. “That’s something we need to work on. The girls have a tendency to hang their heads when they lose the momentum, but we can’t hang our heads. We just have to find a way to get the momentum back.”
The Miners opened up a quick 3–0 to start the decisive fifth set, and they were still ahead 5–3 when Gilbertson gave her team the serve with a kill. Junior Maddie Rand followed by serving up eight consecutive points to turn a one-point deficit into a 12–5 lead. Four different Belmont players registered kills during the run, and four unforced errors by Shullsburg aided the rally.
The Miners used back-to-back kills by Lexi Leifker and Hattie Rennert to cut the gap back to 12–7, but the Braves went up 14–8 on a kill by sophomore Briana Ernst and Klein followed with a block kill for the game-winner to put the finishing touch on the comeback.
“I said in the huddle before the fifth set started that this is the third match in a row we’re going five. I told them we are winning this one,” said Wedig, whose team dropped five-set decisions to Highland and Cassville in their previous two league matches. “We had so much momentum ending the fourth set and I think that carried over into the fifth set.”
Ernst finished with 18 kills and six blocks for the Braves, while Gilbertson tallied 15 kills. Rand led Belmont with 21 digs and three aces, and setter Nikki Knebel guided the offense by dishing out 39 assists.
“It was nice to have all the support from the community. All the donations (to the Tipping for Tessa benefit) were really great,” Wedig said.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Braves rally against Cassville fell short with a 25–23, 23–25, 25–27, 25–20, 10–15, loss of their own.
“Our record does not reflect the potential of this team. We have the talent there. We just have to learn how to use it and finish,” Timmerman commented.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, both teams dropped hard-fought five-set decisions in SRW play.
The Miners took Benton (7–2 SRW) to a fifth set before falling to the then-league co-leading Zephyrs, 25–21, 15–25, 25–19, 10–25, 8–15; while the Braves rally against Cassville fell short with a 25–23, 23–25, 25–27, 25–20, 10–15, loss of their own.
Rennert led the Miners against Benton with 12 kills, 14 digs, three blocks and three aces, and Hicks dished out 16 assists and had three aces in the match.
Leahy tallied seven kills and five blocks, while Hauser added five kills and three blocks.
Knebel paced the Braves with 38 assists and four aces against the Comets (3–5 SRW). Ernst registered 14 kills and Kassandra Palzkill added 10 kills, while Gilbertson led the way with six blocks and Rand came up with 30 digs.
Shullsburg has upcoming SRW matches at Cassville on Thursday, Oct. 8, and at home against Potosi on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Belmont will participate in the North Crawford Volleyball Tournament in Soldiers Grove on Saturday, Oct. 10, starting at 9 a.m. The Braves return to league play at River Ridge on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Cassville 3, Belmont 2
(from Tuesday, Sept. 29 @ Cassville)
Belmont 25 23 25 25 10
Cassville 23 25 27 20 15
Belmont stat leaders
Kills: Briana Ernst 14, Kassandra Palzkill 10. Blocks: Caitlyn Gilbertson 6. Aces: Nikki Knebel 4. Assists: Nikki Knebel 38. Digs: Maddie Rand 30.
Belmont 3, Shullsburg 2
(from Thursday, Oct. 1 @ Belmont)
Shullsburg 25 25 20 19 8
Belmont 18 17 25 25 15
Belmont stat leaders
Kills: Briana Ernst 18, Caitlyn Gilbertson 15. Blocks: Ernst 6. Aces: Maddie Rand 3. Assists: Nikki Knebel 39. Digs: Maddie Rand 21.