By SHAWN YORKS
• Daily Leader
The Seward County Lady Saints volleyball team painted The Greenhouse pink for breast cancer awareness, then sent the Dodge City Lady Conquistadors home feeling blue after taking a 3-2 win in a key Jayhawk West Conference battle Tuesday night.
The 25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 22-25, 16-14 win puts Seward in a position to move up in the conference standings with pivotal games coming up Thursday, Monday and Wednesday of next week. The Lady Saints are 16-16 overall, 7-4 in conference, while Dodge falls to 23-9, 9-3.
“I’m going to take the win,” said sixth year Seward County head coach Bert Luallen.
Any conference win is big, but this one was especially satisfying, coming against the second place team and moving the Lady Saints to a third place tie.
“It’s huge, because had we lost it would have put us in the bottom of the conference behind Barton,” Luallen said. “We’ve got Barton here next Monday, we’ve got Hutch here next Wednesday, Colby Thursday. Every one of these games is important.”
With a large crowd on “Dig Pink” night — an effort to raise breast cancer awareness — the Lady Saints found themselves in a back-and-forth battle in the first set.
Seward took an early 2-0 lead after Sheina Fernandes got a block to get the sideout and the first point. After Dodge City tied it at 2, Seward took the lead again on a block by Courtney Geesing.
The Lady Saints surged to leads of 5-2 and 8-5 before the Lady Conqs tied it at 8.
The set saw 12 ties and lead changes, the last at 17-all after Dodge had taken the lead at 12-11 and held it until a kill by Daiane Souza tied it at 17 and a block by Fernandes gave the Lady Saints an 18-17 lead.
Seward closed the set out on an 11-1 run.
Dodge City took the second set 25-23 and trailed only once at 2-1 after an ace by Souza. The Lady Conqs led by as much as six, but Seward gained a little momentum and came within two. The Lady Saints just couldn’t finish the deal.
“It’s emotional ups and downs, not being focused like we need to be,” Luallen said. “It’s one of the things we’ve been fighting all year.
“We make a mistake, which is going to happen, but we follow it up with two or three or four mistakes and dig ourselves a hole. That’s what happened in the second set and in the (fourth) set.
“Had we not put ourselves in those situations to begin with, we may have been able to just close it out in three.”
The Lady Saints jumped to leads of 5-0 and 8-2 in the third set and never trailed in a 25-21 win.
The momentum swung back to Dodge City late in the third set and carried over to the fourth. The Lady Conqs ended the third set on a 7-3 run and opened the fourth on a 12-4 roll, never looking back despite several rotational errors and five service errors in a row.
Seward pulled to within a point twice at 20-19 and 21-20.
The fifth and final set saw 15 ties and lead changes.
“It was one of those matches where you’ve got two evenly-matched teams as far as talent-wise,” Luallen said. “They made a lot of mistakes, they made a lot of service errors — it was just a matter of who was going to persevere at the end and hang on.”
Down 2-1, Geesing got a block to tie it, then neither team could get more than two points ahead to put it away.
A kill by Shelly Malouff tied it at 13 and a kill by Geesing — a freshman from Montrose, Colo. — gave Seward a 14-13 lead. Dodge City tied it at 14 before the Lady Saints closed it out for the win.
Luallen attributed some of Tuesday’s success to a large crowd on a special night.
“It pumps the girls up and gets them excited and they feel like they’re appreciated, especially when the crowd is vocal,” Luallen said.
Now 16-16, Seward is finally beginning to recover from a slew of injuries that have hurt the team. After starting 9-2 and earning a Top 20 national ranking, the Lady Saints had gone 6-14 until the win last night.
“Part of volleyball is having that continuity on the floor, knowing who’s next to you and who does what,” Luallen said. “When we have those injuries and have to constantly make rotational changes, and put different people in different spots, it’s very hard to get continuity.”
But now the injured players are starting to get back on the floor, which bodes well for the Lady Saints. Luallen hopes his team can rise through the Jayhawk West Standings.
“We could, theoretically, put ourselves up maybe in second place, which gives you a much-better opponent for the play-in match on Nov. 2,” he said. “If we end up at the No. 4 spot, then we have to play the No. 5 seed. Yeah, we get to host it, but I don’t like those options.”
The Lady Saints’ home game last night was their first in The Greenhouse since Ozfest two weeks ago. In the meantime, the ladies traveled to Jacksonville, Fla. to face some of the country’s top teams, where they went 1-3.
Seward faced No. 1 Miami-Dade and No. 14 Florida State College-Jacksonville.
“We played the No. 1 team in the country, scored 21 poins on them twice,” Luallen said. “We played the No. 14 team down there and took a game from them and had two other sets that were very close.”
The ladies took Pensacola to five sets and beat Palm Beach in four.
“One of the things they realized is that they are capable of playing at a much higher level than they have,” Luallen said. “We’re now starting to get some of our kids back and stabilize our rotation.”
The Lady Saints travel to Colby on Thursday before closing out the regular season with home matches Monday against Barton and Wednesday against Hutchinson.
• As part of Dig Pink Night, the Lady Saints honored cancer survivors, including Michelle Miller of Hugoton, who was the game’s honorary server before the start of the first set.