ONLINE EXTRA (this is an online-only volleyball article, video below)
By Joanna Chadwick
The Wichita Eagle
Writing off Heights this season was pretty easy. The Falcons had lost the majority of their team to graduation, including All-Metro hitter Ashlea Bengtston.
It seemed a no-brainer that Heights, the reigning City League champs, would falter this season.
Heights proved early that wasn't the case when it took Bishop Carroll to five games before losing. And the Falcons proved it again Thursday night when they beat Northwest 25-12, 25-14, 23-25, 22-25 and 15-9.
"I hope we learned our lesson with Bishop Carroll, going five with them," Heights coach Gary Thomason said. "We're young, though. I'm throwing out sophomores, juniors and one senior that plays all the way around. It's lessons being learned, and I'm glad we're learning them this way."
It wasn't easy, though, even while Heights cruised in the first two games.
Sophomore Crystal Whitten dominated at the net with seven kills in the first two games as she finished with a match-high 20.
And the Falcons simply took advantage of what Northwest gave them, which included 23 unforced errors – in the first two games.
"In the first two games, I don't think it had anything to do with our backrow players and servers," Northwest coach Dianne Popp said. "It had to do with the front row. We weren't mixing it up setting wise. It was more mental errors. I don't know if that was because we hadn't played a team as good as that. I don't know what it was. We have to sit and talk about it and figure it out."
But in the third and fourth games, Northwest recovered completely. After opening the first two games in deep holes of 9-2 and 10-2, the Grizzlies not only took early leads, but they cut down on unforced errors and started blocking Heights' hitters.
Northwest junior Alaina Shine, who had three kills in the first two games, had three in Game 4 and finished with eight kills and two stuff blocks. Teammate Kelsey Berlin had six kills and two stuff blocks.
Heights stumbled, committing 27 unforced errors in that span, 15 more than the first two games.
"The thing about Dianne's teams, they're tenacious and they never give up," Thomason said. "They cleaned it up. I don't want to say it was night and day, but those balls that were dropping in the first two games were being passed. We didn't respond."
Senior Lindsay Moss, who had 15 kills, added: "They started passing and getting blocks on us. We have really hard outside hitters and a strong front row, so when they started blocking, we started falling apart and not covering."
Despite the momentum gained from winning two straight games, Northwest reverted to its early ways and fell behind 10-2 in the final game.
Moss was the key in the final game when she had six kills and one stuff block. Whitten ended the match with a kill. Junior Perri Tucker had one stuff block in Game 5 and four for the match.
"It was the beginning of the games, getting ourselves in a hole," Popp said. "We need to work on getting it back point for point. The second game we were down 15-6 and we had only scored one point off a sideout. We had no kills, we had nothing. We were basically siding out and you can't do that at this level."
"Mentally we're in the game and we're only down one or two points and the score gets higher and higher, we're OK. But in Games 1 and 2 when we got down five, six, seven points, that's what's really hard. I told my girls, that's what we need to practice."