10/19/05 — Trojans win thriller

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Trojans win thriller

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 19, 2005 2:15 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Denied match point twice and clinging to a 14-13 lead, a confident Sam Mitchell asked teammate Sara Christie to get her the ball on the next play. Christie, at first, didn't say anything during the fifth-set timeout, but she finally agreed to set up Mitchell on the outside.

Mitchell promised not let Christie down.

She didn't.

The sophomore pounded a match-clinching kill off two Lees-McRae blockers and it dropped untouched as Mount Olive College escaped 30-22, 30-26, 28-30, 26-30, 15-13 on Tuesday evening at Kornegay Arena. The Trojans seized their 18th consecutive home victory and defeated the Bobcats for the second time in their last three meetings.

More importantly, Mount Olive (18-6) bounced Lees-McRae (19-9) from the unbeaten ranks in Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference play. The Bobcats slipped to 13-1, while the Trojans climbed to 11-1.

"This was a huge win," said a grinning Mitchell. "This gives us a chance to keep playing for first in the conference."

Mitchell finished with a double-double -- 21 kills and 13 digs. Senior outside hitter Heidi Busch added a double-double with 19 kills and 14 digs. Colby Mangum contributed 19 kills, while junior middle hitter Anna Luft provided 10. It's the second straight match that four Trojans registered double digits in kills.

Christie dished out 60 assists.

Mount Olive claimed its third consecutive five-set victory and fifth overall this season. The 2-hour, 19-minute contest featured 35 lead changes and 36 ties.

"Yeah (we're lucky)," said Busch. "We just don't know what three games is. We love volleyball and always want to go five (games) for some reason. It was in the back of our minds that we were going to win, but we just seem to make it difficult on ourselves."

Busch and Mitchell combined for 10 of the Trojans' 15 kills in the opening game. Mitchell, Mangum and Luft emerged the offensive leaders in the second game. Mangum's monster kill to backcourt broke a 25-25 deadlock and ignited a game-ending 5-1 run.

Lees-McRae, which had its seven-match win streak snapped, fell behind 17-14 in game three. Olivia Luce collected three kills, including two down the line, to help the Bobcats pull even at 18-18. The teams traded points before back-to-back ball-handling errors by Christie and Natalie Burns' kill put the visitors ahead 21-20.

Mount Olive stayed within striking distance with Mitchell, who converted five straight kill attempts. But the Bobcats, who are 1-3 in five-game matches, received steady front-line play from outside hitter Lacie Smith (13 kills) and Dani Usedom. The duo kept the Trojans at bay before Valia Petrova finished off game three with a solo block against Busch.

"I think we just get too confident ... think it's in the bag and just relax," said Busch.

The Bobcats fell behind 11-9 in game four. Petrova's block assist against Busch and an off-speed kill to midcourt tied the game at 11-11. The teams battled to ties at 13-13 and 14-14 before a serving strategy changed momentum.

Lees-McRae started consistently serving balls inside the 3-meter line to disrupt Mount Olive's passing game, which slowed down its offensive attack. Petrova served back-to-back aces before the Trojans adjusted to the scheme.

"Converse did the same thing," said Busch. "I thought we did better today than the Converse match, but it's still something we have to work on."

Although the Trojans never regained their offensive rhythm, they forced ties at 18-18, 19-19 and 20-20. Mount Olive fell behind again and pulled within 26-25, but Petrova's off-speed kill to a wide-open middle court squelched any further comeback attempt.

The Bobcats reeled off three of the next four points for a 30-26 win.

"We've been here before and we knew what we needed to do," said Busch, recalling the team's discussion before the fifth game. "It's now or never. We were not going to lose on our home court."

Mount Olive grabbed a 6-4 lead on Christie's solo block against Luce and Mallory Peavler's ace. Mitchell's kill on a combination play started a 4-0 spurt. Busch added two kills off Bobcat block attempts to make it 10-6. Mangum earned a solo block against Amanda Huffaker for an 11-6 cushion.

Lees-McRae, winner of eight consecutive CVAC regular-season titles, pecked away at the deficit. Luce slammed a kill down the line and blocked Luft on the outside, which closed the gap to 14-12. Smith smacked a kill off a Trojan block, denying Mount Olive its second match point at 14-13.

"We weren't frustrated," said Mitchell. "They are a good team and we expected them to play like that (down the stretch). We just had to play strong and come back. I told Sara to get me the ball.

"I said I'm going to put it away. I was determined get to a kill."

Mitchell did.

Notes: Busch rose to ninth place overall on the NCAA II women's all-time kills list with 2,265 career kills. ... Christie's 60-assist effort moved her into the 28th spot on NCAA II all-time career assists list with 5,453. ... The Bobcats' Petrova handed out 56 assists. ... Mount Olive entered the game ranked No. 8 in the Atlantic Region, while Lees-McRae is No. 7.