One time, two times, three times the ball went back and forth Tuesday night at the packed and noisy DSHA gym in the fifth and final game of the tense Greater Metro volleyball dual between state-ranked Menomonee Falls and their equally-regardes hosts the Dashers
Then people lost track as DSHA desperately tried to put the finishing touches on an epic five-game win over defending league champion Indians and Falls just as fervently tried to come off the mat after looking dead in the water just five minutes earlier.
The rally never seemed to end, as neither side wanted to let the ball hit the floor.
"It got so long, I wished I had kept track," said Indian coach J.C. Bruns of the rally.
And finally, finally, just when people thought it would go on all evening, the Dashers senior middle blocker Olivia Akin finally found an angle and a hole and smacked the ball to the floor, finishing off a dramatic 23-25, 25-23, 14-25, 25-18, 16-14 decision over their traditional rivals.
Falls, which had trailed by a seemingly insurmountable 13-7 margin in the race to 15 final tilt only to tie it twice before Akin's matchwinner, took consolation in the fierce, late rally.
"Down that amount in the final game at their place and then to come back, that's one of the proudest moments in a loss I can remember in eight years," said Bruns. "Like I told the girls, if you lose tonight, it's not the end of the world, it's not going to define our season."
"We'll have other moments."
Even veteran Dasher coach Darrell Frank seemed to recognize that point too as the two could meet again this weekend in the powerhouse West Bend Sprawl.
"At some points in the match, you saw both teams playing not to lose," he said. "I was just lucky at the end that the ball fell to two of my key seniors there (including Akin). It was a real credit to Falls, down as much as they were and then finding a way to battle back."
But it wouldn't be any other way in this titantic struggle in the tiny DSHA gym that Bruns affectionately calls "The Dasher Dome."
There were two defining moments in the match. Bruns felt that his team had controlled both of the first two games even though both were close all the way through.
But in the second game, the Indians had a 23-19 lead but could not seal the deal as the Dashers scored the final six points in a row.
"Coming out of those first two games with only one win was a disappointment," said Bruns.
Then after Falls looked supremely good and the Dashers' very bad in the third game, Frank decided to switch things up a bit.
"I just changed our offensive metric a little bit," he said. "I tried to simplify it and told them to just focus on perfect passing and then let the offense take over."
To that end, he had the team start setting junior outside hitter Katie Hohenwalter a bit more, especially when the Indians' Penn State recruit and 6-1 outside hitter Simone Lee (32 kills) was in tbe back row or otherwise away from her.
"I knew it would be a bad blocking match-up (if Lee were in front of Hohenwalter)," said Frank, "but when she (Lee) wasn't there, I just cut her loose."
The result was an effective cycle of attacks as DSHA trailed early in the fourth game, but steadily pulled away from the Indians.
Falls went ahead 2-0 in the decisive "Race to 15" final game too but the Dashers quickly raced ahead 8-4. By the time it got to 13-7, it looked like it was over, but then the Indians scored six in a row, helped by two kills from junior outside hitter Katherine Von Bank.
When a Dasher hitting error tied the score at 13-all, "The Dasher Dome" was all but deafening in its noise level. Falls fought off one more match point on another Von Bank kill only to have the Dashers' 6-2 middle blocker Caitlyn Coffey get a tip for the lead.
That set up the dramatic final point.
"This was a good win," said Frank. "We lost pretty clearly at their place last year, and I wasn't thrilled with a lot of our play tonight, but sometimes a win is just a win."
"DSHA played so well for long moments tonight, it was a real challenge," said Bruns. "If we had to go down, I was glad we went down fighting."
Abby Becker added 39 assists for the Indians.
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