Handley volleyball sweeps Millbrook
WINCHESTER — The “Dig Pink” volleyball match aimed at raising money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer at Handley High School Thursday turned out to be an exciting evening for all concerned.
The Judges raised over $6,000 for breast cancer research, and while the crowd waited to see who would win the door prizes, Handley and Millbrook put on a show of their own that left the crowd breathless.
Although the Judges won in three sets 26-24, 25-19, 25-22, none of the sets were decided until the final moments, and the match was as intense as any played this year.
Handley was the heavy favorite heading into the match, with the Pioneers having only one Northwestern District win this season. That, however, didn’t seem to matters as Millbrook dominated the Judges through most of the opening set.
With the score tied 3-3, the Pioneers pushed ahead 8-7, then went on a 9-0 run that left the Judges trailing 17-7.
“That was really shocking to us,” said Handley hitter Alexis Zygmunt. “We expected to be ahead. I think that what made the difference was the confidence we have in each other, and that we knew that we could play a lot better. We just had to start playing up to our potential.”
With Millbrook holding what seemed to be a comfortable 19-9 lead, Handley put together a series of runs of its own that evaporated the Pioneer lead quickly. Getting points from eight different players, the Judges rallied to outscore Millbrook 12-2, tying the game at 21-21 on a kill by Emily Snow.
“I thought that we came out a little jittery because of this event,” said Handley coach Lindsay Cole. “This event was very important to our girls and they all wanted it to be a success. We just had to settle our nerves and get focused on the battle at hand.”
Trailing 24-23, Handley scored on kills by Zygmunt and Semefa Tettegah to jump ahead 25-24. Zygmunt followed with an ace to give the Judges a stunning come-from-behind win.
“I thought that winning that first set was a turning point for our team,” Zygmunt said. “We knew that we could win this, and knowing that helped when we were behind.”
Senior Liz Grove was the top scorer in the set, garnering five kills and an ace.
Using the momentum from the set, Handley jumped ahead 9-3. But in a replay of the first set, Millbrook came roaring back and tied the score 12-12 after a Handley return fell short.
The Judges were able to regain the lead, but couldn’t get much separation from the pesky Pioneers until late in the set. Leading 21-18, Zygmunt and Grove combined for three kills to spur a 3-1 run in the final four exchanges of the set.
With Millbrook facing elimination, the Pioneers fought desperately to win the third set. Millbrook freshman Taylor Linder, who led the Pioneers with seven kills and six aces, was at the top of her game in the final set, scoring on four kills and one ace.
Linder’s effort helped propel her Pioneers to an early 9-3 lead, but Handley responded with another dramatic comeback that knotted the score 9-9.
The rest of the set was an intense battle with both sides hammering home hard kills only to watch them get returned by an equally determined defense.
But with Millbrook leading 22-20 late in the set, Zygmunt reached down deep and finished off the Pioneers with what turned out to be the most dramatic comeback of a match filled with dramatic comebacks.
From the service line the Judges junior hit six straight perfect serves, three of which turned into aces, to bring Handley back for the last time. Appropriately, Zygmunt, who finished the night with seven kills, two blocks, and five aces, got the match winner with an ace.
Besides Zygmunt and Grove, Handley got critical points from several other players. Rachel Dodson had four kills and her defensive play at the net resulted in four blocks, was key in the Judges’ win. Liza Homan, Tettegah, and Snow also scored multiple points for Handley.
“I think that it’s a big advantage when you have 10 really strong players who are all a lethal threat,” Cole said. “And that’s not just with kills. They also do a real good job of passing, digging, hitting and blocking. They’re just well rounded volleyball players.”
Besides Linder, Ashley Humphrey had three kills and two blocks for Millbrook, and Imani Major scored on six kills and an ace for the Pioneers.
“I’ve seen such an improvement in our girls this season that its hard to be disappointed in this match,” said Millbrook coach Ashley Sutphin. “We played our hardest and a coach can’t ask for anymore than that. I thought that all of our girls did a fantastic job tonight, and I’m very proud of them.”