LANARK – Momentum is huge.
The Erie Cardinals scored the first point of the first set and didn't look back during Thursday's 1A Eastland Regional championship match against the host Cougars.
Erie had its fair share of opportunistic spikes and played its way to a huge 25-10 first-set victory – a rare first-set win for a team that seems most comfortable playing from behind – and then carried that momentum over to the second set, which it won 25-23.
"We have a tendency to start kind of slow," Erie coach Alicia Murphy said, "and we couldn't do that in this kind of setting, on this court, and they didn't."
The Cardinals' first-set victory had a few factors that added up a large lead. Senior Courtney Cobert started the team off right. First, she was flying everywhere on the court for digs. She also recorded four first-set aces. Although she credited the team for pumping her up, her aces got everyone going, including the already-rowdy Erie student section.
"We were really pumped up, and they got me pumped up," Cobert said. "My serving was really on tonight, and that was a big help."
Another factor that helped out the Cardinals (28-7-1) was Eastland's inexperience in a huge-game atmosphere. A team with a lot of underclassmen, the Cougars came out a little tight in the electric environment. This led to uncharacteristic mistakes, errors, and a loss of momentum.
"They came out tight, and their performance suffered because of it," Eastland coach Kristy Pierce said. "I'm assuming they were a little rattled. Before the game, they appeared to be ready, but when we have a couple freshmen, mostly sophomores on the floor, how they react to things is something you can't predict."
Between sets, Pierce gave her players a pep talk, in an attempt to calm them down. It paid off, as the Cougars played better in the second set.
The momentum shifted back and forth throughout the set, as the teams traded points. Erie had two one-point leads, and the scored was tied eight times. However, momentum took the Cougars' side, as they had a 20-15 lead late in the set.
After Eastland served a ball out, Savannah Mettler had two monstrous kills and cut the lead to two. A Cougar timeout righted the ship, and Eastland's Sydney Guetner had a block and a kill to force a Cardinal timeout, which turned the momentum back in favor of Erie.
The rock-solid foundation of Rachel Cobert and Mettler stepped up late. The duo combined for six of the last seven Cardinal points.
"It was really necessary for us to play like that, and that's what kept us in the zone," Rachel Cobert said. "We had a lot of big kills because we were so fired up, and we wanted it so bad that we just took it out on every ball we hit."
"Everybody picking each other up really helped us," Mettler said. "It really helped knowing that our teammates were behind us and supporting at all times."
Getting off on the right foot was huge for Erie.
"It needed to be our game from start to finish," Murphy said, "and the girls were chugging through and doing what they had to do."
Star of the Game: Savannah Mettler, Erie 10 kills, 3 blocks
Key Performers: Rachel Cobert, Erie 9 kills, 4 blocks; Peyton Achs, Eastland 6 kills.