After losing the first two sets against rival Bay Sept. 3, the Rocky River volleyball team was looking its third-consecutive three-set loss in the face.

By the time they walked out of the gym at Bay, however, the youthful Pirates had a renewed confidence after coming away with a 3-2 Great Lakes Conference decision over the Rockets (14-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-12) and handing the Rockets their first loss of the season.

Leading the Pirates scoring was senior Emily Stanciu with 21 kills, 18 digs and an ace, sophomore Taylor Spies (34 assists and three aces) and sophomore Paige Waite (12 kills, one ace and nine digs

Pirates coach Karlee Bruck said the tenacity her team showed down two sets is a great step forward for a team with only three seniors.

“This is probably one of the coolest teams I have ever coached for that reason,” Bruck said. “I’ve been coaching for 7-8 years and I think this is probably one of the first teams that has been able to come back from a 2-0 deficit and come back and take the next three sets. A true testament to them and their competitive desire and wanting to continue to push through and not give up.”

Early in the first set, Rocky River (4-3, 4-1 GLC) kept close with the Rockets, limiting the deficit to no more than five points. Bruck took an early timeout trailing 10-5. Following that, Bay (5-1, 5-1 GLC) went on an 11-4 run to push its lead to 21-9. That lead was enough to hold off a four-point River rally near the end of the first set.

Though the Rockets got most of their points in the first two sets off capitalizing on Pirates errors, senior Sadie Joyce established herself early in the first, contributing three kills and three assists.

“(Sadie) and Elodie Joyce are huge out there because obviously I’m on the sideline coaching (and) they’re coaching out there,” Bay coach Katie McCarthy said. “So it’s really helpful to get all the girls that don’t have any experience – it’s just amazing to have them out there working together and working with the girls.”

Leading the Rocket’s scoring was Sadie Joyce with 10 kills, 21 assists, two aces and 15 digs, Brooke Brewer (seven kills, 26 digs and two aces) and Mia Sunahara (four kills, 12 digs and an ace).

The second set started much of the same way with the Rockets jumping out to an 8-2 lead. Rather than calling another quick timeout, though, Bruck left her players on the court to work out the kinks amongst themselves. The Pirates fought back to tie the set at 13-13 and never trailed by more than five the rest of the second, despite losing 25-21.

“As a coach, you have to really pick and choose. Timeouts can be crucial,” Bruck said. “I felt like I was kind of a broken record saying the same things over and over and it had gotten to the point where a timeout was going to do us no good. I was like, ‘Hey, you know what I’m going to say, you know what you have to do, you need to go execute it.’ Watching them figure that out and that leadership that people took on was awesome.”

Rocky River looked like a new team in the third. The Pirates took the first three points and never trailed the rest of the set. Bay tied it 14-14, but Rocky River continued to open up its lead on the back of Stanciu’s five kills and Spies' nine assists.

“I feel like we just didn’t let (the situation) take us over,” Stanciu said of the team’s composure. “We were kind of passive in the beginning and we pulled out this aggressiveness and ability to compete. It’s just that we have to work as a team for a win and not as individuals. We have to pick each other up when someone makes a mistake or is feeling down.”

The Pirates used that teamwork to push through Bay rallies in the fourth set and put together numerous multi-point runs to force a deciding fifth set. The Rockets put the pressure on Rocky River immediately in the fifth, forcing Bruck to take two quick timeouts with her team trailing 5-2 and 8-4.

River took six of the next eight points to tie the set at 10-10. Stanciu had four kills the rest of the way including the match-deciding final point off an assist from Spies.

McCarthy said she told her team that they need to fight in every set and indicated that the effort and intensity may have dipped following the two-set lead.

“We have to play a whole match,” McCarthy said. “It’s not something we’ve done so far. We’ve been taking some plays off mentally and we just can’t do that. We beat them the first two set and that’s how we play. We play really well and we just have to finish.”

Following a game against Normandy last night, the Rockets continue conference play at home against Parma tomorrow night at 6:30. The Pirates travel to Normandy tomorrow night, also for a 6:30 first serve.

Contact this reporter at jkopanski@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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