By Rick Assad
After falling behind two sets to none, there was a real sense of urgency on the part of the Burroughs High girls’ volleyball team.
Knowing this isn’t the way to begin a match, the Bears rallied and captured the third game, and were even tied late in the fourth set, drawing within a whisker of tying the nonleague encounter against visiting La Canada on Thursday and forcing a fifth and deciding set.
When it mattered most, though, the Spartans proved tough and resilient and more than ready for the challenge as they pulled out the fourth set and in the process prevailed 25-13, 25-21, 19-25, 25-22.
That third game was a beauty and it saw the Bears race off to a 4-0 advantage on four consecutive kills from senior outside hitter Heidi Collins.
The lead swelled to 7-4 on a tapper from senior middle blocker Bella Lomet, but the Spartans, ranked 142nd in the nation and eighth in the state by the website maxprep.com, evened it at 7-7 when sophomore outside hitter Tawnie Ohrt hit the ball out of bounds.
Righting the ship, Burroughs (4-4) took command 14-10 on a service ace from senior setter Meghan Lynch.
Lomet’s dagger made it 20-15 in favor of the Bears.
The advantage was extended to 21-15 on a service winner from junior outside hitter Janessa Wareebor.
Burroughs’ lead ballooned to 23-17 on a Collins kill and the Bears captured the next two points that included another kill from Collins that made it 24-19 before picking up the next point for the game.
At this point, the momentum had shifted slightly in favor of the Bears and if a fourth game could be won, the match would literally hang in the balance.
“We kind of realized that we can play with this team. We have respect for that team, but sometimes we give overly respect for a team,” Burroughs coach Edwin Real said of the slow start. “Once we realized that we can play with them, then we started to play a lot better.”
On occasion the Bears seem to get off track and perhaps lack focus, which Real hopes will disappear as the season progresses.
“We do lack confidence a lot,” he said. “Sometimes we do play well and sometimes we don’t play well. I thought we played well.”
The fourth and final set began with the Bears seizing a 2-0 lead on a kill from Ohrt and an ace from senior libero Charlotte Hobson.
The Spartans (7-1) then went on a 6-4 blitz and pulled ahead 8-6.
In fairly short order, La Canada marched in front 12-8 on a tapper from sophomore setter Tatum Purdy.
When sophomore outside hitter Haley Clark, who leads the Spartans in total kills, blocks and aces, delivered another soft swipe, La Canada, which has played 30 sets this season and lost only seven, dashed ahead 15-12.
On this day, there was a great deal of fight in the Bears as they evened it at 15-15 on a winner from Ohrt.
This set would be deadlocked eight times including 16-16 on a rocket from Lomet, 18-18 on a push from Purdy, 19-19 when Lynch’s serve sailed out of bounds and 21-21 on a smash from Clark.
What followed was a 4-1 blitz as Clark added a kill to make it 23-21 and then a tapper from Clark for a 24-22 edge.
Senior outside hitter Olivia Toland’s service ace clinched the game and the match.
“Burroughs did a really great job of making better adjustments. They played really, really well,” La Canada coach Laura Browder said of the last two sets. “I was impressed with the adjustments they made.”
Had the Bears taken the fourth set, it would have forced a fifth, which can be filled with nerves.
How would the Spartans have handled this situation?
“Super good. We’ve been to two five-set matches already, which is a blessing. In practice we focus on our mental aspect,” Browder said of that prospect. “We love adversity. We love pressure. We love the moment. Our kids are prepared for it.”
Thursday’s match began with the Spartans, who opened the season with a five-match winning streak before losing to South [Torrance] in a tournament 3-2, bolting ahead 3-0 on a block from junior middle blocker Nikki Hughes.
In tidy fashion, La Canada outscored Burroughs 5-2 and waltzed ahead 8-2 as Clark’s kill made it 7-2 and a bullet from Hughes increased the margin to 8-2.
Lomet’s kill trimmed the lead to 9-5, but the Spartans closed ranks when a hit from Collins found the net and saw La Canada march ahead 14-6.
An ace from Hughes handed the Spartans a 19-10 lead and it swelled to 21-11 on a tapper from sophomore outside hitter Chloe Nussbaum.
La Canada scored four of the next six points including a kill from Toland that made it 24-13.
When Lynch’s attempt was hammered outside the line, the Spartans were in front one game to none.
Hoping to continue its strong play from the previous set, La Canada bulldozed ahead 5-0 in the second set as Clark added a block to make it 2-0 and then a tapper for a 3-0 edge.
A kill from Hughes secured an 8-4 cushion and four more points followed to make it 12-6 on a push from Hughes.
Toland’s soft slap made it 14-10 and Toland’s block handed the Spartans a 17-11 advantage.
Trying to battle back, the Bears trimmed the deficit to 18-13 on a tapper from Lomet.
La Canada would not be denied as it marched ahead 22-14 on Clark’s dagger, but the Bears were not done yet as they came within 24-21 on a kill from Collins.
The set was finalized when senior defensive specialist Kylie Colton sent her serve out of bounds.