The Del Norte High volleyball team took Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League rival McKinleyville to a 9-9 tie in the fifth set Thursday night. Without spring in their legs, the league opener for both the Warriors and Panthers would come down to fundamentals.
Del Norte’s execution proved to be more sound. McKinleyville committed four errors as the Warriors built a 13-11 lead. Senior Cortney Penner recorded the last of her six kills on the penultimate point, and Brittany Maready’s spike on the final point pinged off three Panthers to close the deal.
A jubilant Del Norte squad truly left it all on the Del Norte High School court in a 25-18, 21-25, 18-25, 25-16, 15-11 victory.
“I never lost hope,” Penner said. “I screamed my hardest. I never thought we weren’t going to win. The last kill, (I was thinking), ‘I’m a senior. Let’s do this. Am I going to go hard, or not at all?’”
Penner’s faith in herself and her team would not be shaken despite a second-set letdown and a 12-point deficit in the third set.
The Warriors’ mental and physical toughness shined through in the fourth set. Del Norte (4-3 overall, 1-0 Big 5) held a 7-6 lead when senior Amy Henkell stepped up to serve. When the Warriors finally lost a point on Henkell’s serve, the lead had grown to 15-8.
It would eventually rise as high as 22-11 before McKinleyville trimmed the deficit, but an emphatic kill by Del Norte outside hitter Kaitlyn Clemann on the final point signaled that the home team had regained control of the match.
“We actually learned to stay calm and play tough,” Warriors coach Debbie Lorenzi said. “We played one point at a time. It started in the fourth game.”
It really started in the first game. Del Norte received serves cleanly, and the ball made its way from setters to hitters just as easily.
The Panthers, however, were also helping the Warriors’ cause.
“McKinleyville played a lot of free balls,” Lorenzi said — balls hit with the expectation of a return from the opposition.
Del Norte took advantage accordingly and never trailed in the first set, leading 22-11 at its highest point.
Cracks in the foundation showed in the second set, as the Warriors built a 16-12 lead and promptly lost it. Both teams played to a 20-20 tie before the Panthers took five of the last six points.
“We psyched each other out — we won the first set. We can win the next one,” Penner said.
McKinleyville senior Kellie McDonald recorded kills on the last three points of the second set to tie the match. McDonald had nine kills, three blocks and three service aces (two in the second set alone) for the Panthers on the night.
Del Norte had almost fully ceded control in the third set, recording two kills and spotting McKinleyville a 21-9 lead. A 9-5 run at the end of the set, sparked by four straight Panthers hitting errors, was too little, too late.
With the score tied 5-5 in the fourth set, the Warriors introduced a new wrinkle into the game. Senior Marissa Van Dyke blocked two McKinleyville shots within four points, and junior Ashton Smedley recorded three of her five blocks in the fourth set as Del Norte built their large lead.
“Blocks are very big,” Lorenzi said. “They can just spur you up and put a team down. So many times you can demoralize a team by blocking.”
Smedley supplemented her blocking performance with a team-high 10 kills. Maready had eight kills and two service aces for the Warriors, and Van Dyke and Kaitlyn Clemann each notched seven kills.
Henkell was the unsung hero along the back line, with a team-high 10 digs and three service aces. Del Norte scored 22 of its 104 points on Henkell’s serve alone.
“Amy is playing a very consistent game in all her skills,” Lorenzi said. “Her passing is superb. Serving — she’s doing a fine job at it.”
The McKinleyville match marked the end of a 10-day break between nonleague and Big 5 play, which the Warriors filled with competition from area volleyball players in rec-style games.
“Thank God for them,” Lorenzi said. “They really help us out.”
Lorenzi added that the successful league opener was “the most consistent I’ve seen us play.”
“They’ve been maturing a lot of the time,” she said. “I think they showed that maturity. The first game, it’s easy to come out and play your best.
“I thought they learned it’s never too late. We told them: High school volleyball is crazy. Anything can happen.”
The Warriors have a Tuesday bye before facing Eureka at home on Thursday, Oct. 4. Junior varsity play starts at 5:30 p.m., with the varsity match to follow.
McKinleyville JV 25-25
Del Norte JV 11-19
The Warriors’ junior varsity squad fell behind early in both sets of a straight-set loss to the Panthers.