Madras volleyball was just a mere couple points from its first home victory of the season.
Leading two sets to none at home Thursday evening, the White Buffalos appeared to have gotten the better of Redmond, both taking advantage of the Panthers' errors while finishing plays of their own with timely aces and kills.
Madras had Redmond on the ropes with a 23-19 lead in the third set, only needing two more points to secure its first win of the season, in August, no less. Whether it was a case of a young team thinking it already had the match won, or something else, Madras allowed Redmond a chance, and the Panthers capitalized.
The Buffs set up a pair of hits, one in the middle, one towards the outside, and Redmond blocked both easily, bringing the Panthers within two, 23-21. The teams then traded one kill apiece, before the Panthers went on to score four unanswered points and steal the set with a 26-24 score.
Madras still had plenty of opportunities to escape the match with a victory, but the third set was the shift in momentum that ultimately doomed the Buffs. Redmond claimed the following two sets by margins of 25-19 and 15-12 to win the match 3-2.
"We definitely should've taken the third, but then they just kind of let the momentum go," Madras head coach Brianna Hewson said. "I was hoping we would get the momentum back, but we didn't pull it out."
The Buffs had plenty of chances to take one of the following two sets. Madras and Redmond traded points to begin the fourth set, but after the score was tied at five, Redmond scored eight unanswered points with four kills, two aces and also got a point from an illegal hit called on Madras. Redmond won the fourth set 25-18 and sent the game to a decisive fifth set.
Madras junior Erica Desjardins registered two kills to open the set, before a Jessica Olivera kill and an ace by Kiersten Anderson again tied the score 5-5. Redmond later jumped ahead 11-8, before Desjardins sent across two more kills and Anderson added another ace to tie it at 11. Redmond then took four of the next five points and walked off with a 15-12 score in the last frame. Madras ended the match with 34 kills and 20 aces.
"No one likes to lose, of course, but it was a hard-fought loss," Hewson said. "They did very well and I'm very happy with the way they played."
The loss was tough to swallow for the Buffs, knowing how close they were to securing a victory, but the result signifies their improvement already from the past two seasons in only a short time with their first-year head coach. Madras finished with a 3-16 record in 2016, and of their 16 losses, only three went beyond three sets, and just one went to a fifth and final set.
Thursday's game signaled the start of a new era in the Madras program. Even in defeat, the Buffs scraped together promising plays, without two key players, Ally Dominiak and Niyallee Cochran, who were unable to play due to injuries.
An already young team with only two seniors returning, Madras also played its two freshmen, Hannah Holliday and Olivia Symons, at setter and libero, respectively, for a good portion of the match.
"We've got a lot of growing room still, but my younger girls, my sophomores and freshmen definitely picked it up and did what I needed them to do …" Hewson said. "They're a great group of girls, and they're just going to get better and better as it goes."
After the Buffs lost in straight sets Tuesday at Ridgeview — currently ranked No. 2 in the 5A classification — they have a showdown with 2A powerhouse Culver on the Bulldogs' home floor Thursday. The match is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.