Raiders almost make the mark in upset bid

 

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge’s Natalie Altstadt, left, nervously watched from the bench as the Raiders battled Tell City in Thursday’s Class 2A sectional at Buechler Arena in Ferdinand. Altstadt totaled 22 kills and the Raiders garnered early leads in each set against the sixth-ranked Marksmen, but Tell City won 25-19, 25-20, 7-25, 25-23 to end Southridge’s season. For a gallery of photos, click here.

 

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — Sure, most of Southridge’s players featured leaky eyes while commiserating with teammates and friends on the Buechler Arena floor at Forest Park after their final match of the season Thursday. The Raiders, naturally, were sad it was over. But they agreed on one thing: It was impossible to be bummed about how it ended.

For stretches during the night — most notably within a stunning third-set runaway — the Raiders rested on the verge of creating the tremor of the early stages of the Class 2A state tournament. With Tell City’s standout hurting and Southridge middle hitter Natalie Altstadt and the Raider defense shimmering, the Raiders didn’t view the Marksmen as the team that had won 22 of its 25 matches this season via sweep. Instead, Southridge saw a team that was beatable.

It nearly happened.

Tell City squeaked by, 25-19, 25-20, 7-25, 25-23. And on a night when the Raiders (12-18) won five more total points than the state’s sixth-ranked team, they emerged feeling they did everything they could.

“If you’re going to lose, I said this is one way to end a season,” Raider coach Abby Fink said. “Most every single one (played) their hearts out, and you could tell. They played well.”

Tell City (26-3) handled Southridge 25-6, 25-17, 25-14 on Aug. 16 in the season’s second match, which Fink recalled “wasn’t pretty.” Things changed on both sides for Thursday’s installment.

Marksman standout setter and hitter McKenzie Hayes severely sprained an ankle recently, though Fink never told her team about it in the days prior to the sectional, knowing Hayes would presumably play. Tell City coach Dalonda Hayes said she hoped to get by without her daughter in the lineup, but those plans were scrapped when the Raiders fought to a 17-all tie in the first set and lurched ahead 7-1 to open the second.

The emergency button for having Hayes on the floor had to be pushed, since the Marksmen found a Raider team feistier than they remembered from the season’s first meeting.

“They were a lot more scrappy. They hustle,” Dalonda Hayes said. “Teams that I don’t like to play (are) scrappy teams, because they’ll dig up everything and they’ll make us make mistakes, and tonight we made mistakes, and that kept them in it.”
McKenzie Hayes powered Tell City through the final surge of the first set and a gradual rally in the second. There was no antidote for Southridge’s third set of peerless volleyball.

The first act was all Altstadt. Within a seven-point span, the senior whipped back-to-back-to-back kills, then later rejected consecutive shots — including a solo stuff on Hayes. Maddie Lubbehusen plastered an ace. So did Morgan Peter, who served out the final six points.

Before the set, Fink asked her team to promise one thing: To have fun. And boy, did they.

“We play better when we have fun, and we had fun that game,” said Raider senior Jacey Neukam, who logged 10 kills. “I think we came in as the underdog and we wanted to show everybody that we could fight.”

Added Fink: “It’s a good feeling to knock (Tell City) down and knock them down well once. I wish we could have done it three times, but...”

Fink nearly got the wish. Tell City swiped a 22-17 edge in the fourth set, and Fink feared the same end-of-game jinx that bit the Raiders all season, including in Thursday’s opening two sets. But Southridge crept back on Altstadt’s block. And a little further when Leah Eckert rolled a winner to the middle of the floor. And closer when Altstadt hammered the last of her season-best 22 kills.

The Raiders were within 23-22 and 24-23, and Fink thought it could be a season-saving turning point. But on match point, one of the night’s protagonists one-upped the other. Altstadt kept the point burning by tipping across a wayward ball, but Hayes rifled a kill off the block to extinguish Southridge’s season.

Likewise, it closed down the careers of six seniors that Fink championed for their versatility. The Raider coach pointed out she’s got a senior’s vacancy to plug about everywhere: there’s a middle hitter (Altstadt), a setter (Deel, who totaled 32 assists and 13 digs), a libero (Peter, who retrieved 19 digs), a right-side hitter (Morgan Meyer), a left-side hitter (Neukam) and a play-everywhere wild card (Leah Eckert).

“They all brought different things to the court. They brought personalities and different aspects every team needs,” Fink said. “I’ve got a lot of places to refill and big shoes to replace. They’ll be missed.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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