Adversity brings valuable experience to an already dominant St. Helens squad.
It didn't take long for the Lady Lions to make a statement. They had come to win, and remain atop the Northwest Oregon Conference standings as the only undefeated team. The Lions won the first two sets before tripping up in the third, but returned with a vengeance and dominated Liberty in the final set to win 25-22, 25-23, 24-26, 25-15 on Thursday evening.
Rarely do good things happen without a hitch. That was something the Lady Lions found out the hard way on Thursday evening, as they watched Liberty slowly pull away in the third set. With St. Helens leading the match two games to none, they weren't facing a loss, but coach Tom Ray still saw an opportunity to teach.
That was the game I said 'You're down by a couple... this is when good teams come back' and we did, said Ray.
I got on them in the timeout. This is what you've got to do. You've got to learn to come back.
From there, the Lions were a changed team. No longer stoically putting away their opponents, St. Helens showed glimpses of emotion that made a stark contrast to their normally casual demeanor - tears on the face of senior Kali Moore and a victorious yell from senior hitter Gabby Susee. The Lions made a furious rally, cutting into the lead and eventually taking the advantage. Liberty was able to pull it out and win the third set, but not before St. Helens had learned a valuable lesson.
I think we got some fire in us, definitely, said Susee. We were feeling it, but after that (third) set, we got some fire in us.
From there, the Lions were a changed team. Ray pulled his players together after falling short in the third set, and simply told them to play the game, and play they did.
The Falcons kept the game close, but St. Helens broke the game wide open, scoring eleven points in a row to take a 17-8 lead. Liberty responded, but didn't couldn't slow down the home team and conceded the match three games to one.
In spite of the win, Ray still sees things the Lions can improve upon. In the pivotal third set, St. Helens gave up 11 points to the Falcons on their own errors, costing them just their seventh set overall so far this season.
If we would have cut those in half, we would have won three straight, Ray said, but [The Falcons] played tough. These guys played really good defense. Our big hitters were hitting it right at them, and they were digging it up.
Defensive challenges like the ones Liberty brought on Thursday are exactly the experience the Lions need to have success down the road. St. Helens now focuses on their upcoming game with Sherwood, who lost their setter and with her a major portion of their offense. While the Bowmen may not be the team many expected them to be this season, they still present a formidable challenge, and Ray is pleased to have come out on top and learned in the process.
That's the kind of team we've got to face, he said. It was good to pull that last one out. Definitely.