Walton came back from a 25-20 loss in the first set to win the next two 25-22 and 28-26. After Pope won the fourth set 25-18 to even things up at 2-all, the Lady Raiders again bounced back to win the fifth and deciding set 15-11.
It was revenge for Class AAAAA champion Walton (6-2), which lost in two sets to AAAA champ Pope (9-1) on Aug. 20 in the state finalists’ play date at Marist. It was also the fourth win in a row for the Lady Raiders, who got off to a slow start this season with two losses in its first three matches.
“It seems like, every season, we kind of start slow, and then the chemistry starts coming together and (our players) start playing together and supporting each other unconditionally,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “It’s an honor to be able to win a match like that.”
For Fitzgerald, it was a more cohesive Walton squad that took the floor against Pope this time around.
“I think they’re just getting to know each other,” Fitzgerald said. “There are a lot of new players on the team, and I think it just takes time for them to come together and adjust to high-stress situations.”
Walton entered the match ranked third in Class AAAAA, with Pope holding on to the No. 1 ranking in AAAA.
Kelly Murphy led Walton with 27 kills and five digs, while Hannah Rooks had nine kills and 44 assists. Tori Ferguson had nine assists, five digs and three aces, Katherine Plessy had eight kills, Morgan Smith had 10 digs and Anouska Best had five blocks.
Mary Hannah Arrington led Pope with 19 kills, seven digs and five blocks, while Katie Bange had 12 kills, eight digs and 4½ blocks. Rachel Reynolds had 13 kills, Wimberly Wilson had 17 digs, Mikaela Tracy had 38 assists and Leslye Barnette had five assists.
The most pivotal point of the match was the third set, when Walton held off a late surge after leading most of the set to hold on and take a 2-1 lead.
Walton held a narrow advantage through most of the set and was up 22-16 at one point before Pope took advantage of some mistakes by the Lady Raiders to go on a 9-2 run and take a 26-25 lead.
The Lady Raiders had the final word in the third set, however, as kills by Murphy and Rooks, and then another kill by Murphy, sealed the set.
“Again, it all comes back to chemistry,” said Fitzgerald on how her team held on to win the third set. “We believe in each other, so when you’re in a high-stress situation, everyone is going to be there for you 100 percent. We’re committed to that process and (our players) showed that.”
Pope led most of the way in the fourth set and went on to win 25-18 to even the match, but Walton jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the final set and held off a Lady Greyhound surge to clinch the win.
“We had a pretty good performance, and I was happy with that,” Pope coach Bryan Jones said. “We had a couple of mistakes here and there. Walton plays good. They were able to capitalize on our mistakes. You have two really strong teams battle it out. It was a fun match. The fans definitely got their money’s worth.”