DEWITT – Mason seniors Willow Martin and Erin McDermott are looking to become the first players in school history to win four league titles.
A second loss to DeWitt would have made that an uphill battle.
But the Bulldogs proved no challenge is too difficult on Wednesday night, as they battled back from a two-set deficit to beat the Class A No. 10-ranked Panthers in five — 23-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23 and 15-12 — and moved into a two-way tie for the CAAC Red crown with four games remaining.
“I really think this team is very special,” said Martin, who is committed to Western Michigan University and had a team-high 25 kills. “Losing all the seniors that we did last year, the girls that came up have been absolutely phenomenal.”
DeWitt entered the conference showdown looking to take a two-game league lead. Mason was looking to potentially snatch at least a share of its fifth straight league title. (The Bulldogs won the final three league titles in the abandoned CAAC Gold and shared the Red with the Panthers last year.)
Mason volleyball rallies to beat DeWitt in five sets
In the early moments, it looked as if DeWitt was on its way to its second sweep of Mason on the season. The Panthers (26-2, 5-1) jumped out to a two-set lead and started the third on a 14-8 run. But the Bulldogs (21-7-2, 5-1), sensing the game was starting to get out of reach, went on a 6-0 spurt to tie the set at 14-all.
A kill by junior Lexi Nordmann, who had a match-high 26 kills and nine blocks, jumpstarted another DeWitt run and gave them an 18-14 advantage. Mason quickly retaliated, however, and it was Bailey Cantrell’s ace that gave the Bulldogs a 25-23 win.
“A theme of our season has been mental toughness,” Mason coach Elisa Zwick said. “It’s so easy to check out for a few plays — you make an error, your teammate makes an error. We work too hard to let something slip through our fingers.
“To not fight…DeWitt deserves us to play to the best of our ability. That’s what’s so fun about playing in this conference, every year you know it’s going to be a battle.”
The Panthers nearly pulled out the victory in Game 4 when sophomore Grace George gave her team a 20-18 lead and momentum. But, once again, the Bulldogs fought back and took a 22-21 lead on a controversial no-call — many in attendance felt Mason hit the ball four times before sending it back over. From there, the Bulldogs had all the momentum and grabbed the win.
“That was obviously a big (swing), but we can’t let those kind of balls get to us,” said Nordmann, who is verbally committed to Division I Southern Methodist University. “We have to control what we can on our side of the net.
“We weren’t really prepared for them to come out with that much energy in the third set. We have a young team, and I think that was one of the first times we’ve been tested.”
Mason went on to close out DeWitt in the final set, 15-12.
“This really trains us to go out and battle and be tough,” said Martin, who had the game-winning kill in the fifth set. “The game was on the line once they started scoring. …That really helped us mentally and that will prepare us for districts, regionals and states.”
McDermott, a Central Connecticut University commit, had 43 assists and freshman Anna Walta had a match-high five aces for the Bulldogs. The Panthers’ Gabi Mundt had 35 digs and Brooke Binkley had 61 assists.
Contact James L. Edwards III at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.