West Branch senior Claire BridgesBy Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – A string of close conference losses early this season made for some glum bus rides and a few dejected post-game locker rooms for West Branch.
The Bears were all smiles on Tuesday.
West Branch took an early lead and held off a late charge to down Mid-Prairie 25-23, 25-11, 18-25, 20-25, 15-11 in a River Valley Conference South Division thriller in West Branch.
“It means a lot to not go home angry,” West Branch senior Claire Bridges said. “Going to practice tomorrow is going to feel a lot better than it does on a loss. It’s big to win these close ones when so many of them haven’t gone our way before.”
Abby Knoop hammered a match-high 26 kills and Bridges added eight as West Branch improved to 12-6 on the season.
Knoop had three of her 26 kills in the decisive fifth set as West Branch moved to 2-3 in RVC play.
“We never gave up and that was the key,” Knoop said. “Although we lost those two sets we came back strong, we dug deep, we knew what we wanted to do and we came out and got the win.”
West Branch needed every one of those kills to hold off Mid-Prairie (4-5, 0-5 RVC) and sophomore Jaedynn Evans.
West Branch senior Abby Knoop
Evans had 16 of her team-high 23 kills in the final three sets as the Golden Hawks rallied from an early two sets to none hole.
West Branch used a 6-0 run to take a 14-7 run in the fifth set and held on for its sixth consecutive win.
“Sets four and five it looked like Mid-Prairie took all of the momentum,” West Branch coach John Walsh said. “For us to come back in the fifth set and pass the ball better and as a result get better swings that was a good turnaround.”
West Branch used a late rally in the opening set to grab the momentum early.
The Bears trailed 22-17 after a Maya Hall kill but scored the next five points, pulling even at 22-all on a kill by sophomore Abbey Fryauf.
An Evans kill gave Mid-Prairie the lead back at 23-22 but Bridges closed out the opening set with three consecutive kills to give West Branch an early one set to none advantage.
“We came back there and we were all on fire,” Bridges said. “After that we were ready to take on the next one for sure.”
West Branch never let go of that momentum in the second set.
The Bears scored the first five points of the second set and never trailed on their way to a 25-11 win.
Knoop had 10 kills in the second set.
“Being down and coming back was a huge momentum shift,” Knoop said. “It really carried us into that second set.”
Mid-Prairie closed the fourth set on an 8-2 run and then got six kills from Evans in a 25-20 win in the fourth set to force a fifth.
West Branch never trailed in the fifth set, breaking a 5-5 tie with a 3-0 run that started with back-to-back kills by Bridges and junior Sophie Nopoulos.
“I had total confidence in our entire team the whole match,” Knoop said. “I knew we would come back and we could find what we needed to get the win.”
West Branch led 8-7 when it put things away with a 6-0 run that started with a back-row kill by Knoop.
Sydney Lamont added a kill during the key six-point run that gave the Bears a 14-7 cushion.
“I know they have it in them to do that so it was great to see when that switch turned on,” Walsh said.
Kaiya Luneckas finished with six kills while Fryauf and Nopoulos each added five for West Branch.
Courtney Jarrett 0-2-0, DaLana Kron 0-0-0, Sydney Lamont 3-0-0, Abbey Fryauf 5-0-3, Riley Vaughan 0-0-0, Sophie Nopoulos 5-0-0, Abby Knoop 26-0-1, Kaiya Luneckas 6-0-0, Claire Bridges 8-3-0, Kaylee Montgomery 1-0-0, Team 54-5-4.
Assists – Sophie Nopoulos 17, Riley Vaughan 15, Claire Bridges 1.
Jaedynn Evans 23-1-0, Maya Hall 6-0-0, Samantha Miller 3-3-0, ShaeLynn Becker 4-2-2, Ali Butters 8-0-1, Delaney Smith 1-2-0, Anna Vilovchik 0-2-0, Team 45-11-3.
Assists – Samantha Miller 31, Delaney Smith 1.