ROCHESTER - Hayley Dessner was going to be a problem, but Dave Lyons knew that. What the Red Wing volleyball coach did not know was that his team would struggle as bad as it did. In their Sub-section 1AA-East semifinal, the Wingers put together perhaps their most complete match of the season.
But Thursday's final was anything but, and that resulted in a 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-15, 26-24) victory for Plainview-Elgin-Millville.
"We were scrambling on our heels, fighting to get balls over and (PEM) was lining up and taking shots. (Dessner) did a nice job against us, but I thought (Sabrina Becker) had a very good game using us on the outside," Lyons said. "We dug alright, but we could never get into a rhythm."
To start the match, it was the Bulldogs who struggled to get going. Red Wing got out to a 6-1 lead, largely due to the Bulldogs' hitting woes. PEM had three errors in those first seven points before Dessner found a groove to help PEM pull ahead 9-8.
The Wingers then went up 13-9, but another Bulldogs run tied the match 15-15. From there, PEM needed just two kills and an ace as Red Wing committed four hitting errors, a service error and two net violations.
"We had way too many unforced errors," Lyons said. "In the first game, we had 12 unforced errors. That's almost half their points. That's like saying, 'Here, start at 12-0.' It's tough (to overcome), especially against the better teams."
The second set was back-and-forth the whole way, though the Wingers did find some offense through Madisyn Lyons and Vanessa Frazier, and setter Macy Koester, who had 15 assists. Lyons had four of her 15 kills in the second, and Frazier had two of her seven. And both players were great defensively at the net with Lyons coming up with three blocks and Frazier one.
Still, up 16-11, Red Wing let PEM back into the set with three straight errors, including two passing. The Wingers held on, tying the match, but it was worrisome nonetheless.
"Even in that (second set), we were still fighting it," Dave Lyons said.
The Bulldogs came out hot in the third, taking a 7-1 lead behind Becker, who had a pair of quick kills. Red Wing battled to cut the deficit to 15-9, but PEM ran off four-straight points to take back control. The Wingers never got closer than eight points after that.
The end of the match came much later than it appeared it would. The Bulldogs took a 15-12 lead before a Madisyn Lyons kill gave the serve back to Red Wing. That would be the last Winger serve before Dave Lyons called a timeout to halt a five-point PEM run. Trailing 20-13, it appeared the season was over for Red Wing.
But the Wingers had a lot of fight left, ripping off six-straight points, and nine of the next 10 to take a 23-22 lead on a Frazier kill. A deciding fifth set was two points away.
The Bulldogs got two-straight points to go ahead 24-23, but another Frazier kill tied the match once again. A Red Wing hitting error gave the serve back to PEM, which got a game-winning block from Dessner moments later. Dessner led all attackers with 19 kills while Becker added 11.
The Wingers end the season 14-17, a win shy of their second section championship appearance in three years. Those are numbers to build on for a team that graduates just three.
"I told the kids, 'From where you started and where you're at, even today when we didn't have our best game, you guys fought and kept yourself in it. You gave yourself a chance. And you're going to have to do that through life,'" Lyons said. "They improved all season, and as a coach, that's all you look for. And if you can keep doing that, you're going to have a good program."