Down 2-1, the Greenwood volleyball team had its back against the wall against District 14 rival South Warren on Tuesday at South Warren.
That’s when Greenwood junior Katie Howard went to work.
Howard had 12 of her match-high 20 kills in the final two games as Greenwood rallied to beat the Spartans 3-2 (25-21, 22-25, 21-25, 25-14, 15-9) and remain unbeaten on the season.
“(Howard) is a special player,” South Warren coach Justin Griffin said. “You hope she gets rotated back and we can take advantage of it, but when she was up there they kind of got going and we couldn’t really do a whole lot.
“She’s a special talent. You try to slow her down as much as you can, but that’s tough to do.”
Tuesday was the second meeting of the season between the two teams that have met in the last five Region 4 title games, the first to count in the District 14 standings. Like the meeting in Lexington 10 days ago, when Greenwood rallied to win 2-1, the Lady Gators needed another rally to secure the match and remain unbeaten.
South Warren (10-2 overall, 4-1 District 14) built a 16-13 advantage in Game 1 before Greenwood (12-0, 4-0) used a 6-0 spurt to take control and take the lead for good. The Spartans got as close as 20-19 but were unable to get any closer.
The Spartans were able to bounce back in Game 2, getting a boost from senior hitter Erin Nerland. Still nursing an ankle injury, Nerland did not play in the first game. Her presence helped make a difference in Game 2, with Nerland recording four kills and Lexi Button adding seven kills – including one on game point that evened the match.
“Erin has been battling that ankle a little bit,” Griffin said. “She’s doing really well in practice. We are asking her to play over there and she’s obviously doing the best she can. She’s a really good player. I think that offensively she did a really good job and kind of gave us a lift there in the second set.”
The Lady Gators built an 8-2 lead in Game 3 before South Warren started to chip away. The Spartans finally pulled in front 18-17 on a kill by Maddie Rockrohr. The two teams then exchanged the lead twice and tied three times over the next five points before South Warren used a 4-0 spurt to take the lead for good and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Greenwood never trailed in Game 4. Howard – who had eight kills and eight attack errors in the first three games – came to life with eight kills in the fourth game, helping the Lady Gators’ lead swell to as much as 13 points. South Warren tried to make a late run, cutting the deficit to nine before Greenwood scored the final two points to force a decisive fifth game.
“I think I just saw the block better and our setter was doing a fantastic job of pushing the ball out to the pin,” Howard said. “I think when we all start to click together, everybody on offense does a lot better.”
South Warren scored the first two points in Game 5 before Howard and Annee Lasley had kills during a three-point run that pushed Greenwood in front. The Spartans tied it 3-all after a kill from Sophie Pemberton, but Greenwood scored the next three points to take the lead for good and eventually pull away.
“That was impressive,” Greenwood coach Allen Whittinghill said. “I think South is a Top 25 team. There are a lot (of) teams in the Top 25 that South is better than. Although they are not in the rankings they are up there for sure, so you know you have to bring your best game.
“I feel like if we are both playing good it is a like a puncher’s duel out there. Everybody is throwing haymakers and whoever lands last will win. Luckily it was us tonight.”
Lasley added 15 kills and four aces for Greenwood. Olivia Obermohle had 11 kills, Anna Hewitt finished with 16 digs and Megan Gore added 56 assists.
“South is a great, competitive team,” Howard said. “It’s always a good match because everyone comes out and supports us.
“It’s always a fun rivalry and we love playing each other.”
Rockrohr led South Warren with 13 kills, while Button finished with 12 and Nerland added 11 kills.
South Warren will play in the Rocky Top Classic in Sevierville (Tenn.) on Friday. Greenwood plays at Warren East at 7 p.m. Thursday.