Netters defeat Taft in five-game in final match of season

Though Sweet Home teetered on the brink of disaster, the Huskies performed in the clutch when they had to, defeating Taft in five games in their final match of the year last on October 21.

Whether it was the long drive to Taft, or Taft’s seniors night, or whether it was just a lethargic start, the Huskies lost to the Tigers 25-23 in the opening game. At one point, Paige Niemi’s serving and four kills produced eight consecutive points to give the Huskies a 14-7 lead. But Taft responded with a six point run of their own.

The game followed that pattern as it continued. Sam Johnson put together four tough serves, but it was Taft’s next run of seven points built on Sweet Home errors that put Taft back in the game. At 23 all, the Huskies netted one hit and had another block to put themselves in a 1-0 deficit.

“We thought it was going to be easy,” said Niemi, referring to the 4 game win they had over the last place Tigers earlier in the year, “but they came out and were pumped up and scrappy.”

Taft played a slower game than the Huskies were used to, based on defending well and then generally hitting a soft hit or deep three ball. It took awhile for Sweet Home to adjust.

The second game was evenly contested until the score was 16-16. At that point, Taft self-destructed and Johnson provided a couple of kills to salt away a 25-16 victory.

Taft employed the same strategy used in the first game to keep game three even at 17 apiece. That tactic worked as the Huskies made enough mistakes down the stretch combined with a late offensive surge by the Tigers to put Sweet Home away, 25-20.

The outcome was looking grim after the Huskies dropped the first six points to Taft in game four and maintained that edge for most of the game. Trailing 19-23, Emili Riggs earned a sideout with a kill to get the comeback started. Tasha Saunders delivered two tough serves that were mishandled by the Tigers to pull Sweet Home within a point, but a wide hit gave Taft two game points.

At that point, however, Niemi took over, starting with a soft kill to an open spot in the Taft defense. With Alisha Huschka serving, Niemi had a game-tying kill following a save by Saunders. Then Niemi followed it up with a tip off a block and a game-ending kill.

Playing without one of their setters, Tiffany Miller, and also defensive specialist Tana Tyler, coach Debbie Danielson used Niemi to help Huschka initially in the setting department.

“I didn’t want to end the season with a loss,” said Danielson, “so I put Paige back in the middle, which helped us.”

The momentum shifted to Sweet Home in the final game.

“We kept telling each other to stay strong and keep pushing it,” explained Niemi.

“We were really energetic. We said we didn’t want to start off slow.”

Johnson and Hillary McCartin helped jumpstart the Huskies with a couple of kills each early in the game. Bayli Riggs served for six consecutive points, including three aces, to extend the lead to 11-3. Taft crawled back to within three after some Husky hitting difficulties, but Sweet Home finished the match with three straight points to stave off the Tiger effort, 15-9.

The Huskies finished tied for third in the league with a 3-5 record.

“Every game they did improve,” stated Danielson. “If we start out next year without losing ground, then we will be on the right track.”