TOWANDA – Circle volleyball coach Shelly Nibarger knew her team would be in for a challenging evening Tuesday as the T-Birds, ranked 2nd in Class 4A, played host to Class 5A No. 5 McPherson and 4A No. 4 Buhler, whom the T-Birds had defeated in straight sets a week earlier.


At this point, Nibarger’s team is not 100% and it showed at the triangular. After falling to the talented Bullpups in straight sets, Circle went the distance with the Crusaders only to succumb to a late run and drop the match.


"We’re battling some illness so we’re anxious to get back to our regular team," Nibarger said. "The nice thing about the postseason this year is records don’t matter. We just need to keep getting better and we need some other players to step up and make us a more potent offense across the net."


McPherson 2, Circle 0


The Bullpups began on a 5-0 spurt and that carried them to an easy first set victory, 25-12. McPherson was excellent at the net early on and when the Thunderbirds were able to find some attacking opportunities, they were turned back by excellent defense. As the set progressed, the deficit grew thanks to some self-inflicted mistakes by the hosts.


"(McPherson) will never beat themselves," Nibarger said. "We counted their unforced errors and I think they had less than five. Unfortunately, we made a ton of unforced errors."


The T-Birds were noticeably better in the second set, but halfway through McPherson had once again built a lead and did not do anything to let go of it, taking the set 25-19 to claim a straight sets victory.


Buhler 2, Circle 1


The Crusaders also dropped a match to McPherson in straight sets (25-15, 25-23), but in the second set, they led 13-4 only to see the Bullpups finish strong and win by a narrow margin at the end. The level of play that allowed them to build that lead against McPherson seemed to carry over into their match with Circle.


Buhler took an early lead and built it up to 22-15. The T-Birds then began to string some points together, but the late run was too little too late and the Crusaders took it 25-22.


The second set was decided very quickly as Circle played its best volleyball of the night. Any points the T-Birds surrendered, they would earn back on the very next point. The play at the net from seniors Sam Johnson and Laci Beougher stymied Buhler no matter what it tried. The Thunderbirds also got great serving from seniors Taylor Bessent and Preslie Wallace, plus the overall play from libero Ella Mullins provided a lethal combo that dominated the set by a 25-10 count, setting up a winner-take-all third set.


The Crusaders would recover enough to stay close early in the third. But Circle seemed to have hit its stride again with a six-point run to take a 16-10 lead. However, Buhler refused to be put away.


Down 21-17, the Crusaders dug out every T-Bird kill opportunity and were able to get offense at the net to turn the tables and finish on an 8-1 run for a 25-22 victory for a 2-1 match win.


"We beat them a week ago in two," Nibarger said. "Tonight they really showed they’re a much improved team."