South Range rallies for 3-1 win, earns district berth
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — TJ Irons has seen a lot of growth in the South Range volleyball program since practice began earlier this year.
Trials and tribulations throughout the fall have turned a young Raiders team that only features a single senior into a formidable team on the court as the season progressed and tournament play began.
On Thursday evening at South Range, the Raiders found themselves in a sectional bracket final of the Division III district against United Local, the team that knocked them out in a sectional bracket final back in 2016.
After dropping the first set, 25-20, to the Golden Eagles (14-9), the Raiders stormed back and walked away with a 3-1 victory to advance to the district semifinals for the first time since the 2015 season.
Having a couple of home playoff games has made a difference for Irons and his team.
“It’s great, it’s great that it’s home, it’s great to kind of get battle tested,” he said “Three out of those four sets were close, and I told them that. I said ‘You guys showed tonight that maybe early in the season, earlier on, if we lose that first one, we don’t come out of that. We may struggle a little bit and maybe not win the match, but you showed tonight, that even when that happens, you keep battling, you keep doing what you’ve been working on all year.’
“That’s another thing we tell them. These matches very rarely are actually won on the night of the match. Typically they were won in July, they were won in August, and they were won in September. All the practices and all the reps that you get, those are what get you ready for the matches.”
Being down 1-0, Izzy Lamparty used her senior leadership and helped keep her team focused.
“In the beginning, our energy was off and we didn’t match their energy,” she said. “So I had to bring all of them together and let them know that we had to get our energy up if they wanted to win.”
Set number two was a thriller that resulted in 28-26 victory for the Raiders and South Range didn’t look back.
“Our confidence goes up as well as our adrenaline,” Lamparty said “I think that it brought more for the next games so that we have the same adrenaline that we had tonight.”
South Range won the third set in a 25-9 rout and clinched the match with a 25-20 victory in the fourth set.
Raiders junior Reagan Irons had a game-high 23 digs, and credits chemistry for the biggest improvement from the beginning of the season to now.
“I think the biggest change is that we play as a team,” she said. “We care more about our teammates than we do about ourselves.”
Lamparty played her final home match as a Raider, but has eyes on a bigger prize.
“It’s sad, but in the end, whatever it takes to go to districts is whatever matters,” she said. “I think we can go as far as it takes us.”
The senior chalked up a game-high 19 kills, Julia Blasko had a game-high five aces, and Sarah Kuhns recorded a team-high 14 assists.
Fifth-seeded South Range (15-9) plays second-seeded Middlefield Cardinal at 6 p.m., next Wednesday. The Huskies are going into the match with a playoff sweep over 12th-seeded Liberty after having a first-round bye.