By Dennis Atwood
WOODSTOCK --The Page County Panthers took some of the air out of the Central Falcons' Senior Night celebration balloons, with a 3-2 (25-18, 24-26, 25-10, 17-25, 15-10) Shenandoah District volleyball win Tuesday night.
The Falcons recovered from a monumental 17-8 deficit in the second set, and recovered from a 25-10 third set thrashing to win the fourth set, and played to a 10-10 tie before losing the decisive fifth set.
In the evenly fought first set, the longest service streak was five points, by the Panthers, who changed a 10-8 deficit into a 13-10 lead.
The squads exchanged two-point and three-point runs, ending with an 18-16 Page County lead.
The Panthers then fashioned a 7-2 run, finishing with a kill by Kristen Jenkins, the fifth team ace of the set, by Katie Breeden, and the set-winning kill by junior hitter Bethany Wentz (match-high 17 kills).
"Tonight, I wasn't hitting my best at all," Wentz said. "I couldn't get my hand on top of the ball."
The second set was the most exciting and improbable of the match as the Falcons recovered from being down 17-8 to get the extra points win, 26-24.
The huge Panthers lead was built on a six service point streak by senior setter/hitter Kori Jenkins, including four aces (match-high eight aces) and eight straight service points by sophomore setter/hitter MaKayla Smith with three aces in the mix.
"I usually do pretty good on aces and we work really hard in practice spending a lot of time on serving and everybody gets their fair share in," Jenkins said.
The Falcons' about-face from death's door was engineered by two kills and a block by junior hitter Rebecca Sigler, a kill and an ace by senior hitter Lindsey Toothman, and a kill by senior hitter Haley Cahill.
After a Panther service error gave the Falcons their 20th point, Toothman whacked a kill and junior setter Kathleen Maynard delivered the win on a silver platter by slicing four aces, a trio of them coming after a Panthers attack error, to clinch the set win.
Although playing with a bandaged left thumb, Toothman had a team-high 10 kills for the Falcons.
"Coming back from that big of a deficit and working hard as a team was exciting," Toothman said. "My thumb [injury] didn't really impact my play that much. It was just a little sore from time to time with setting."
The Falcons were unable to carry the momentum into set three as the Panthers dug an even deeper hole for Central, building an even larger lead, 19-5. The Falcons didn't have a long enough rope to climb out this time as Page County (7-8, 6-5 Shenandoah) continued it's domination to earn a 25-10 win.
But Central (5-10, 4-7 Shenandoah) was in a never-say-die mode, and the Panthers seemed to be over-confident in the fourth set, as the Falcons jumped out to a 10-5 lead, bashing five aces, including a trio by junior Theresa Barela.
The Falcons never trailed and, ahead 21-17, finished out with three more kills by Toothman, a Panthers attack error, and the set-winning kill by senior hitter Cahill, to even the match at two sets each.
In the decisive fifth set, the teams fought evenly to a 10-10 tie.
Then the Falcons committed an error and Wentz took charge, slamming two kills, followed by a kill by Jenkins and Wentz's 17th kill for the match-winner.
"I thought we played really hard, and we showed a lot of heart on the court tonight," Central coach Allison Huckstep said.
Sigler contributed seven kills and two aces for the Falcons, while Maynard supported the cause with five aces.
The Panthers made 18 aces, and committed 11 service errors and 24 attack errors. The Falcons laced 16 aces, made nine service errors and committed 30 attack errors.
Page County was without the services of junior hitter Brittney Donovan, who was dressed in sweats and cheered her teammates from the bench. The Falcons will play at undefeated Riverheads on Thursday night to wrap up the regular season. The Shenandoah District tournament begins next Monday.