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Volleyball: Cougars survive wild ride

Joe Brown/Republican Eagle Carley Henning (12) and the rest of the Zumbrota-Mazeppa volleyball team celebrate after scoring a point in the fourth set of Thursday's HVL match against Pine Island in Zumbrota.

ZUMBROTA - After an up-and-down match, you can forgive the Zumbrota-Mazeppa volleyball team and head coach Stacy Liebenow for feeling a little dazed Thursday night.

Playing against a Pine Island squad with one win this season, the Cougars went from holding a 2-0 lead, to being forced into a fifth set, before ultimately coming away with a five-set victory in Hiawatha Valley League play.

"Things started well, then it'd go bad again, then things would get better," Liebenow said. "It was one of those nights where you didn't know what to expect. It was just a roller coaster."

Z-M (4-2 HVL, 6-6) won the match 25-23, 28-26, 18-25, 23-25, 15-5.

"That was not the way I thought it'd go tonight," Liebenow said. "But we got the job done at the end."

Early on, the Panthers showed they were ready to play spoiler, taking a 9-4 lead in the first set. But thanks to a five-point run, aided by a kill and two ace serves by Claira Sullivan, Z-M tied the set at 9. The two teams continued to slug it out with 11 ties before consecutive kills by Brenna Hoven and Carley Henning gave the Cougars the 1-0 set advantage.

Z-M overcame another slow start in the second set when Hailey Dykes tied the set at 15, sparking a seven-point run to go up 22-15. Pine Island closed the deficit to 22-20, and ultimately tied the set at 24 after a kill from Kamyn Peterson-Rucker. Tied at 26, Henning, who ended the match with 11 kills and six ace serves, put Z-M up 2-0 with a pair of kills.

"Pine Island is scrappy; very, very scrappy," Liebenow said. "They gave us a run for our money and we needed that. We needed a little fire under our butts to get going."

For a third straight set, Pine Island (1-9, 0-6 HVL) jumped ahead to take a 7-3 lead. Only this time the Panthers didn't relinquish the lead. The Cougars tied the set at 17, but Pine Island stayed alive after winning eight of the final nine points to force the match into a fourth set.

As the Cougars tried to regroup, Liebenow and the rest of the coaching staff had to boost a stunned squad.

"We told them (after the third set), 'Hey girls, we have to play our game. We're flat-footed, we're on our heels instead of our toes. We need a leader,'" Liebenow said.

The two teams battled through eight more ties in the fourth set. But Pine Island's defense took away most of Z-M's outside swings and the errors continued to pile up on the Cougars. In hopes of slowing down the Panthers' attackers, Z-M's block had 10 net violations on Thursday.

"We kind of all came together and got on a run (in the fourth set), and things kind of got going. Then it was a little bit of a roller coaster for us," Liebenow said.

In the final set, the Cougars' block, highlighted by a pair of stops from junior Kaitlen Buck and sophomore Hailey Dykes, stifled Pine Island's attackers to help clinch the match in convincing fashion. Z-M took a commanding 7-2 lead after the block forced the Panthers away from their swings, having to resort to more tips and lobs.

"If you have good blocks that are a threat, you can take them out of their offense," Liebenow said. "That's what we did in the fifth set."

After a Pine Island hitting error put Z-M up 13-4, Dykes and Maddie Nyhus emphatically ended the match for the Cougars with the final two kills.

"It's a 'W,'" Liebenow said. "Not a pretty 'W,' but it's a 'W.'"

Dykes had nine kills and six total blocks for Z-M, while Sullivan added 10 kills in the victory. Pine Island's Sophie Langworth and Niki Fokken combined for 29 kills, with 16 and 13, respectively.

The Cougars are back on the court Tuesday, hosting Byron. The Panthers travel to Hayfield Tuesday.