In its first 3A North League match of the year, Sparks came out inspired and confident, taking down Incline in four games: 27-25, 19-25, 25-17, 25-11.
“I think a lot of it was just them playing as a team,” Sparks volleyball coach Tarina Elliott said. “Instead, of looking at me for every play, my setters were calling the plays. As a team, they stepped it up and they were talking a lot.”
In Game 1, Sparks enjoyed a lead at 4-3, but a 5-0 Incline run handed the visitors an 8-4 edge. It didn’t look like they would relinquish that lead, but the hosts dug deep for something special.
The Highlanders scored three points in a row, leading to what was the biggest gap to that point, 15-8. Sparks called a timeout to stop the rally, but Incline kept on rolling, taking its first double-digit lead of the game, 18-8.
Incline was up 19-9 and only six points away from securing the first game, but that’s when the unexpected happened.
What appeared to be a harmless 4-0 run by the Railroaders, all of a sudden turned dangerous. After an Incline sideout, Sparks put together four more unanswered points. That 8-1 streak closed the gap to 20-17 and fans were treated to an edge-of-your-seat game.
The Highlanders still had a three-point lead at 22-19, but a miss-hit by the Green and White and an Emma Clune tip cut the deficit to 22-21.
Consecutive points by Incline gave it game point following a poor serve by Sparks and an ace. However, the Railroaders did not quit.
A bad pass by the Highlanders kept Sparks in the game. Clune then came up with a huge block and Athena Addington served up an ace, knotting the game at 24-24. Miscommunication by Incline on a set let the ball drop to the floor and Sparks grabbed the 25-24 advantage.
The Highlanders stayed alive by delivering their own block, but a service error and a long spike attempt gave Sparks the first game.
“We just needed to stay on top of it,” Elliott said of the Game 1 comeback. “I tried to keep the girls motivated and not let them get down on themselves.”
Game 2 started off very similar to the first game with a marginal Incline lead growing into a much larger one. The Highlanders built a game-high 18-9 cushion.
However, Sparks tried to show that magic again. Another 4-0 run closed the gap to 18-13.
After Incline pushed the lead back up to seven, 22-15, the Railroaders answered back with four straight points, capped by back-to-back Krystal Parker aces. That was as close as the home team got, and Incline didn’t allow another point, tying the match at one game apiece with the 25-19 win.
In Game 3, Sparks decided it was better to play with the lead.
After back-to-back spikes went into the net to hand the Highlanders the initial 2-0 lead, the Railroaders were unstoppable for 12 straight points. Addington had three aces in the 12-0 rally and Clune added a pair of kills. Addington finished with a team-high six aces on the night. As a team, Sparks had 16 aces.
Sparks claimed its largest lead after an ace by Jessica Garcia, increasing the advantage to 18-7.
Like Game 1, even the double-digit lead wasn’t safe.
This time, Incline stormed back with a 4-0 spurt that made it 21-17. But the Highlanders didn’t score again as the home team answered with its own 4-0 streak to give it a two games-to-one lead in the match.
Sparks came roaring out of the break, tallying the first four points of Game 4.
That fire kept going. The Railroaders owned a 9-3 lead after their second 4-0 rally of the game and a string of six consecutive points pushed the lead to 17-5.
Sparks didn’t let Incline climb back into the game with a large rally.
Clune’s seventh and final kill of the match put the Railroaders ahead by a match-high 14-point margin, 22-8, and that’s how the margin remained at the end.
Parker paced Sparks’ offense with eight kills and eight assists. She also had three blocks. Marjorie Cabales led the Railroaders with nine assists.
Sparks (1-7 overall, 1-0 in 3A North) is back at home against Whittell at 1 p.m. today.