Spikers win five-game thriller

"Thursday night, the Bainbridge High School girls' varsity volleyball team packed more melodrama into its five-game home match with Olympic than a TV network could pack into a five-night miniseries.There were wild momentum swings. There were defeats snatched from the jaws of victories. There were sudden breakdowns, agonized setbacks and inexplicable shifts in plot.And, finally - as you might hope a good miniseries might end - the Spartans lived happily ever after with a 15-7, 15-7, 12-15, 15-17, 15-6 thriller two-and-a-half-hour triumph against the Olympic League rival Trojans - avenging a mirror-image five-game loss on Olympic's home court four weeks before.It shows how far we've come along since that first game, Bainbridge coach Julie MIller said. In the last two weeks, especially, we've begun to focus a lot more on playing 'smart' volleyball -- we've always had the athletic talent, but now we're playing great.With the win, Bainbridge solidified its hold on fourth place in the league standings with a 6-3 season mark - comfortably ahead of Olympic (5-7) but also well behind the league's top-notch triumvirate of Sequim (10-1), Central Kitsap (9-1) and North Kitsap (8-2) - heading into Tuesday's home tilt against the Cougars.The top four teams earn automatic berths to the West Central District playoffs, which begin at month's end.Thinking that far ahead may have been what derailed a fairly routine match in the early games Thursday night. Bainbrige won the first two games handily and carried that momentum into the third game.Behind the steady serving of sophomore Carlie Miller and three timely kills from fellow sophomore Laura Bartunek, the Spartans stormed to a 9-0 lead in what should have been the final game.Instead, with the exception of a kill from Heather Watkins, the Trojans stormed back to take the next 10 points on a slew of uncharacteristic Spartan mistakes. The two teams traded hard-fought points over the next few side-outs, but Olympic had clearly stolen back the momentum and won the game on a perfect serve just beyond the return range of Bainbridge's diving Michelle Purdom.Bainbridge started off with a 5-3 lead in the fourth game, behind big kills from Purdom and Sarah Frazee, but Olympic came back once more to take 11 of the next 13 points and sit on game point.Enter Caiti Kruse, however. The junior, whose strong setting and serving have been key to the Spartans's success this season, spun off seven straight service winners to bring Bainbridge back to the verge of finishing off the Trojans for good.And once more, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. The Trojans went up 15-14, but Bainbridge, scratching all the way, forced five straight side-outs without a score and tied the game on Purdom's block to force an illegal Trojan double-hit.Olympic held firm, however, to take the next two points and force a fifth and final game. This time, the Spartans decided during their game break, there would be no fast start and frustrating fade.Again, it was the combination of Kruse's serves and the firm front-line play of Purdom and Frazee that bent back the Trojan tide. Up 3-2, Kruse served up five straight Spartan points before Oly got one back. Purdom served up three points, and a flurry of frantic Olympic flails at the ball led to a commanding 14-4 lead.Still, it took seven side-outs and two more Trojan points for the epic duel to die on Sarah Cook's well-placed slap kill.We thought we had the game already won, said Purdom, whose double-digit digs and kills keyed the comeback, of the circumstances that forced the fifth game. We weren't working together, and we talked it over and decided we had to get our attitudes back up, start talking more on the court, and play more as a team.Helping the Spartans play more as a team is more team to go around. In the past few years, Bainbridge has had a core of six or seven players who saw most of the playing time. This season, however, with more talent moving up through the junior-varsity ranks, there are more players available to rotate in off the bench and keep a fresh contingent around the core group of Frazee and the Purdoms - senior Michelle and sophomore Kristina. The rotating group includes Bartunek, the heir apparent to the center frontline starring role; Cook, another tall front-line contributor; junior newcomer Gretchen Gaither, a service specialist like Kruse and Miller; junior Courtney Kimball, a developing frontline talent with long arms; Shailiah Maynard and Heather Watkins, key front-line fill-ins; and Ashley Pyles, a strong back-court bumper.With us being so young, with so many sophomores, it's good to have that cushion of fresh people to rotate in when we need them, Miller said.That, coach and players agree, is what should carry tem deep into districts.We're putting good pressure on ourselves to win these next games, Purdom said. Our goal has always been to go on to districts and see what we can do there. And if we play together and stay together, I think we can do well. "

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