Grant, Murcko lead Howland’s comeback
By Greg Gulas
Down two games to none and facing the prospect of being swept by league foe Boardman on Senior Night, Howland Tigers volleyball coach Amanda Lingenfelter looked at her four seniors and challenged them to step up and take a leadership role on the night they were being honored.
The seniors — Cassie Murcko, Mariah Nuzzi, Madison Funaro and Natalie Chambers — took Lingenfelter’s challenge to heart then went out and helped lead the Tigers to a sweep of their own. The Tigers won the final three games as they defeated the Spartans 3-2 in All-American Conference, Red Division action Thursday night.
Murcko had 27 kills, 11 points and four blocks while junior Faith Grant added 27 kills, four blocks and four aces to lead the Tigers (13-7, 10-5), who won for the fifth consecutive time.
“Coach told us that this was our night and do we want to get swept, or dig in and play like we are capable of playing beginning with the third game,” Murcko said. “In the first two games we weren’t moving to the ball like we should, so after we started to communicate with one another we dug in, kicked our play up a notch and were able to win the final three games.”
The Spartans (11-8, 5-5) trailed 10-6 in the opening game and fell behind 20-15, but reeled off 10 of the next 12 points, including the last three by Ashley Clark for a 25-22 opening game victory.
Three points by Cate Green staked Boardman to a 5-1 advantage in the second game and after Kaylin Burkey added two points, Boardman had built an 11-4 margin.
Nuzzi cut the Spartans lead to 15-13 with her two points, but Burkey then reeled of the game’s final seven points for a 25-14 victory.
Boardman coach Danielle Siembida said they her team lost their momentum in the third game and could never get it back.
“Howland is a great team. They’re tall, athletic and on Senior Night they came to play,” she said. “We also came to play and by winning the first two games, had the momentum heading to the third game. We then lost that momentum and never got it back. I think we took them by surprise the first two games, but they were able to make some adjustments and by winning the third game, they then had the momentum in their favor.”
The Tigers opened a 19-13 lead in the third game on four points by Haley Vandegrift, and three points each by Lilly Tatum and Murcko.
Grant’s final two serves gave Howland a 25-18 victory.
“We really pulled together in the third game, played hard but communicated much better,” Grant said. “The key is talking and being able to communicate and we did that really well the last three games, as opposed tour first two games tonight.”
Five points by Danni Harigan staked Howland to a 12-8 lead in the fourth game with Murcko registering the final point in a 25-22 Tigers victory.
In the rubber game, Howland raced to a 6-1 lead only to fall behind 7-6 on five points by Clark.
Three points by Grant then made it 13-10 in favor of the Tigers with Harigan notching the final point for a 15-10 victory.
“Boardman played excellent defense the first two games. For us, a strong offense produces unforced errors and we had more than our share,” Lingenfelter said. “I got on them between the second and third games and told them that they can do better, that it was time to play smart and make good decisions. We’re really peaking at the right time with sectional play coming up. It’s great to see the girls coming together and how they expect to win each time they hit the court.”
With the win the Tigers swept the season series from the Spartans, having already defeated them 3-1 on Sept. 13 in Boardman.
Harigan added 15 digs and Kathryn Summerfield 39 assists. Clark had 40 assists and four aces, Burkey a career-high 30 kills and 16 digs and Cate Green 19 digs to pace the Spartans