BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison Bloodhounds won’t be making their annual trip to Cedar Rapids Xavier this year as Fairfield threw a wrench in those plans Tuesday night in the Hound Dome.
After dropping the first set 21-25, the Hounds rebounded with back-to-back wins 25-19, 25-23 and then dropped the fourth set 25-27 that saw eight ties and five lead changes. The fifth set was all Trojans as they rolled to an 8-15 win when Trojans senior Kara Jeffries spun a kill down the left line that fell just inside for the win.
The two squads split the season with Fort Madison winning 3-0 back on Sept. 4, but Fairfield came back with a 3-2 win in the second half of Southeast Conference play on Oct. 2. Fairfield improves to 31-6 on the season. Fort Madison got the bye in the first round because of their regular season record, but Fairfield came into the match rated 14th in the state in Class 4A.
Throughout the five sets the teams were tied 30 times as momentum went back and forth. In the first set after a 3-3 tie Fort Madison got some distance from the visitors going on a 4-0 run to go up 7-3 when an attack from Fairfield’s Alison Godwin went long left. But the Trojans would return the favor when Godwin got an attack to find the floor for a side out. Godwin then went to the service line and Fort Madison’s Jassmine Bass committed back-to-back errors at the net to let Fairfield within one.
The teams then knotted up at 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, and 17 as neither team could seem to put things together. Trojan junior Grace Stever got a kill to put Fairfield up 19-17 forcing FMHS Head Coach Kent Bailey to spend a timeout. Out of the break, Fairfield went on a 4-2 run to go up 23-19 forcing another Bloodhound timeout. Senior Olivia Williams recorded a kill to quiet the Trojans, but with Nadia Boeding serving, Gracie Pumphrey had to bump a third hit, but it went long right. Junior Jillian Wiseman got a kill to pull Fort Madison within three at 24-21, her next attack got blocked high into the rafter and the ball spun left off the ceiling and found an empty spot for the Trojan win.
Fort Madison controlled the second set going up by as much as seven at 19-12 when Stever’s attack from the left side went into the net. Fairfield would never get on track in the set as the Hounds kept the pedal down. Wiseman had five kills in the set as Fort Madison looked to have things better in hand.
But Fairfield raced to a 5-1 lead in the third set after sophomore Lauren Bailey was called for a rare carry. Wiseman got a kill for a sideout and Williams put together a couple of service points with Wiseman again on a kill at 4-6. At 5-8 senior Josie Pumphrey pulled out a couple fastballs for two aces and got a kill from senior Kaeli Hutson to knot the score at 8. The squads would tie at 8 and 10 before Fort Madison was able to eek out some breathing room at 14-11 when Bass got a kill from the left net.
Fairfield then put together a 5-0 run before a Trojan error at the net gave the Hounds the ball back at 15-16. After tying again at 18 and 19, Fairfield went up 22-20 on a Godwin kill at the center of the net that sent Pumphrey sprawling to her left to dig on the dive. Wiseman came up with another kill from the center of the net and a long attack from the Trojans knotted it back at 22. Bass would get another kill at 23-23 and a Stever attack went wide sending Gracie Pumphrey to the service line where she put it in the spot Bailey called for an ace and a 25-23 win.
In the fourth set the Hounds didn’t see a lead until 8-7 when Williams struck from her outside hitter’s spot. Bass would follow with some tough stuff from the center to put FMHS up 9-7, but a couple errors allowed Fairfield to play catch up at 9-all. As was the case most of the night, the teams again were knotted at 10, 12, and 13 and then the Trojans went up by 4 17-13 on back-to-back shots from Godwin and Jeffrey. The two kept the Bloodhounds rear line busy most of the night.
Fairfield pushed the lead to 22-18 when Williams had to clear a third hit with a sideways bump that found the net. Fairfield would open the door for Fort Madison when Jeffrey hit wide again forcing a Trojan timeout.
Williams would get a kill to make it 21-23 and then missed on her next attack to put Fairfield one point away from the tiebreaker. But Fort Madison would battle back with Willians serving and would tie the score at 24s after Godwin’s smack went wide. But Godwin would get a big block off a Wiseman attack and then would get a kill to force the tiebreaker.
Fort Madison was never really in the tie breaker other than a tie at 1. The Hounds lost 3 of 4 points at 4-9 on defensive errors and a long attack with the Trojans’ senior Olivia Roberts serving. Hutson got a kill to pull Fort Madison within 5 at 5-10, but Fairfield would go on a 5-3 run with Godwin getting two kills including the match winner at 15-8.
Wiseman lead the Hounds with 28 kills on 57 of 59 hitting and two blocks. Bass had 12 kills. Bailey had 57 assists and was 17 of 18 serving with an ace and 10 digs. Williams was all over the court with 14 digs, 19-20 serving with an ace and was 26 of 34 hitting with nine kills.
Bailey said the match hinged on the errors in the fifth set, where the Bloodhounds couldn’t seem to get the ball passed regularly to the front line.
“It was all about our errors in the fifth set. Hit balls in the net – missed a serve. We’d played tentative while they came at it. Give them credit. The fifth set they came out to win it and we looked like the shaky team,” Bailey said.
He said the girls seemed to lose energy after having to fight off deficits all night.
“One of the problems we ran into was it seemed like we dug a hole every game that we had to dig out of. That’s tough to keep doing. When we got to the fifth game they took advantage of that and we struggled,” he said. “We served well and passed well, and when we hit-to-hit rather than tip and rolling we scored. When we came in that was our game plan to hit and not tip.”
He said the seniors on the team helped change the dynamic of the team from last year and were great leaders.
“All five of those kids, Braxtyn McGhghy, Josie, Kaeli, Olivia, and Jassmine are great kids, great leaders this year. We had a great environment for practice, a great environment for games. I can’t say enough about them because we wanted to change some things with the atmosphere and make it more positive and they did a great job of that,” Bailey said.
“I think with cohesiveness as a group of 15 you didn’t see the bickering we’ve had in the past, but on the other side we also didn’t get as excited as we did then.”
McGhghy said it felt like the energy was sapped from the Hounds in the fifth.
“It’s not that we gave up, we lost our energy. We all wanted it. Everyone just looked down. It’s almost like they said they wanted it but they didn’t show they wanted it. I think it was a little of that mental ability to say we can do this. It wasn’t necessarily defense or offense, they got us out of our system and we couldn’t get the sets we wanted and the looks we needed,” McGhghy said.
“In our huddle we say we play with purpose and we didn’t show that in the fifth set.”
Pumphrey said the fifth set hinged on poor passing and execution.
“The passes weren’t there there and our setter was brought back in the middle and we couldn’t get things going. It got in our heads. We get our heads up and then I feel like in a way we let down a little. Fairfield’s a good team at coming back and they don’t let up and I wish we would have done more of that, but we didn’t.”
Hutson said it was good year but the team just lost focus in the fifth set.
“Throughout the year we did a better job of bonding on and off the court. I think we lost our focus a little bit going into the fifth and we just weren’t able to bounce back.”
The Hounds finish the campaign at 20-12 on the year, while Fairfield moves to 31-6. The Trojans have won 25 of their last 27 matches with their only losses coming to West Burlington at a Fairfield tourney on Oct. 13.