By Jake Thompson
MARTINSVILLE — The Avon Orioles (32-5) volleyball team had not been pushed to five sets in any contest this year.
Until last night.
And the Orioles could not have picked a better time than to win their first five set match of the season, snatching a victory right from the jaws of defeat.
Avon fell behind 1-2 to the host Martinsville Artesians in the one-game regional, but rallied back and showed great resiliency in its 3-2 (25-15, 19-25, 22-25, 25-22, 15-10) victory, taking a third consecutive regional title.
“If you are going to be 1-0 in a five set match, this was the time to do it,” Avon coach Scott McQueen said. “I’m really proud of them. I don’t think anyone ever thought we were definitely losing. We had a shot and just kept plugging away and I thought the kids fought the whole time.”
Avon had defeated Martinsville earlier in the year and the Artesians pointed to this game as one they were looking forward to after falling to the Orioles a year ago in the regional round.
“It’s a weird match for me as it’s my hometown and I get the newspaper articles about them wanting to play us again and how they should have won the first time around,” McQueen said. “It is something they geared their season to all year long. This is how it’s been all season for us and we just have had to learn how to deal with it and how to preserver through it.”
Avon came out fast and really took it to a Martinsville team that looked very flat early on. The Orioles jumped out to an 11-0 run before the Artesians scored a single point. Besides a five-point run in the middle of the set, Martinsville could not get anything going.
“When we were up 10-0 and Martinsville took its timeout, I told them it would not be that easy all match,” McQueen said.
McQueen’s statement to his team rang true as Martinsville came alive in the second and third sets, rallying behind a boisterous and vocal crowd.
The Artesians took a 3-2 lead in the second, their first of the night, and never looked back. Martinsville’s lead increased throughout the set by as many as seven points and Avon could not close the gap.
In a pivotal third set, both teams played with great intensity as the lead teeter-tottered back and forth with 12 ties and six lead changes. Following a 21-21 tie, Martinsville took the lead for good, going on a 4-1 run to end the set.
With their backs against the wall, the defending state runner-ups came out with a renewed energy in the fourth set knowing they had to have a win. Avon went up 5-1 before Martinsville pushed back and took a 7-5 lead. Avon tied the set at 14-14 and never relinquished the lead, tying up the match.
Avon’s Beth Prince tallied 11 of her game-high 26 kills in the fourth and finished with 11 digs.
Much like the Orioles three years ago, the Artesians tried to overcome a loss to the opponent that defeated them in the same round of the postseason. After being bounced from the tournament by Center Grove in a five setter the previous season, Avon won over the Trojans the next year.
That would not be the case for the Artesians. Martinsville climbed into a 2-0 lead, but the momentum shifted back and forth through four ties until the scoreboard read 8-8.
Maybe leaning on their experience from the last few successful seasons or just digging down and finding a way to get it done or, maybe, a little bit of both, the Orioles rattled off four straight points behind the service of Ali Rhoades and led 12-8.
Martinsville closed to 12-10, but would not get any closer as Avon took the match and regional title.
“I thought Ali’s serves in Game 5 were huge,” McQueen said.
Rachel Griffin played superbly at the net, dropping shots with great precision all match and led the Orioles with 43 assists and also tallied 17 digs and five blocks. Rebekah Strange recorded 21 digs that saved several points along the way for Avon and senior Emily Graves led the way with seven blocks at the net and contributed six kills. Shelby Conners chipped in 10 kills and four blocks.
With the win, Avon advances to the Seymour semistate and faces Columbus East at Saturday morning following the opening game that starts at 11 a.m. and will play in the semistate final that night a 7 p.m., providing they win. Avon played Columbus east twice this season, splitting with them, 1-1.