Coach Brian Hallmark wanted to play Tuesday night’s home triangular against Buhler and Mulvane in Gym 2 instead of Hutter Gymnasium. Gym 2 is definitely smaller, more compact and gets louder and more intense.
The Orioles certainly fed off the environment in their second match of the night against Mulvane. After the teams split the first two sets, they went a whopping 17-3 run, which included a 6-0 stretch that ignited the student section and gave them plenty of energy. Augusta romped the Wildcats to win the third set and claim the match 25-16, 14-25, 25-14.
“It’s a fun environment. They made the place their own,” Hallmark said, pointing to decorations and posters put together by Gus Garcia, who teaches at the middle school and is known for his photography and creative works. “That’s the whole idea of playing inside here was just trying to get some noise.”
The Orioles didn’t quite play with that same level of enthusiasm in the opening match against Buhler, though they didn’t play poorly by any means. The Crusaders simply took advantage of strong attacks that exploited some of Augusta’s inability to block at a high level. Both sets were close as the Crusaders and Orioles exchanged blows and runs, but the Crusaders edged them 26-24, 25-22.
In that first match, senior Kylie McDaniel returned to action for the first time in about two weeks. Kenzie Terry did a great job filling in for her and should remain a key part of the rotation. Even though the Orioles dropped the set, they found a groove when McDaniel came back on the floor. Having one of their best hitters back gave them some extra punch.
In the opening set, the Orioles trailed 5-1, but Maddie Livingston got a much-needed kill to help spark a run. Teresa Steinkamp scored on a block to tie the set 10-10, and the Orioles later got their first lead at 12-11 after an offensive error by Buhler.
Morgan Pennycuff scored a tip kill to tie it 14-14. But that’s when Buhler made a big run as it built a 21-17 lead. The Orioles were resilient as they staved off three set points, one of which was a block by Livingston to tie it 24-24. But Buhler scored the next two points to take the set.
The Crusaders made the first big swing of the second set as they went on an 8-2 run to lead 16-11. Livingston and McDaniel tried to get the team back into it, but the Crusaders held them off to win the match.
“We showed flashes of a team that’s ready to roll,” Hallmark said. “They showed glimpses of ‘Now we’re going.’ It’s frustrating because we don’t always put it all together.”
Buhler went on to beat Mulvane in three sets.
Against Mulvane, the Wildcats led 5-2 early, but neither team led by more than two all the way to a 13-13 tie. But things started clicking as they showed some brilliant flashes of play. They finished on a big 12-3 run to take Set 1. Jaci Bogner had two kills, and ace and a block in the set as she played well.
Mulvane did the same thing to Augusta at the end of Set 2. With the score tied 14-14, the Wildcats scored 11 straight points to take the set. Augusta made several careless returns of serve in that stretch.
“One hit the net, and they had two good serves, but the rest of them were just us. We just checkout out all of a sudden,” Hallmark said about that stretch.
The Orioles erased an early 4-1 deficit with a 7-0 run. Terry, Bogner and Livingston all had kills to spark the offense. Bogner added two more kills in the set.
Freshman setter Jadyn Jackson passed well most of the night, but she got the offense truly clicking in that third set against Mulvane. She executed a couple quick-hitters and moved the ball back and forth to set up McDaniel and Livingston, who combined for five kills in the last portion of the match.
The wins come at a good time for Augusta. Hallmark said the team certainly didn’t play its best in recent matches, particularly against Circle and El Dorado. But with the team starting to get back to being healthy and getting used to its rotation again, Hallmark still feels the Orioles have the capabilities to frustrate opponents the final stretch of the season.