JOHNSTOWN - Going into Wednesday's match, the lone blemish on Johnstown's Foothills Council volleyball record came from Queensbury.
The teams squared off for the second time this season, this time on the Lady Bills' home court, and battled for the top spot in the league.
Before a boisterous crowd, the teams split the first four games with Queensbury winning the first and third games 25-19 and 25-22. Johnstown took the second and fourth games 26-24 and 25-23 to set up a fifth and deciding game.
Johnstown’s Zara Hyde (6) plays the ball over the net against the double block attempt of Queensbury’s Sarah McMahon, left, and Courtney Keys during Wednesday’s Foothills Council match at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
Queensbury’s Courtney Keys (12) and Sarah McMahon (7) attempt to block a drive down the line by Johnstown’s Annie Stock (12) during Wednesday’s Foothills Council match at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
The game stayed close through the first half, however, the Spartans took command after the switch to pull away to a 25-11 victory and improve their record to 9-0 against Foothills Council competition.
"We don't play a lot of five games," Queensbury coach Tyler Carey said. "We play in a lot of tournaments but it is not often that we get in that kind of situation. I was glad to see they can step up when they need to."
Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said she was encouraged by the progress the Lady Bills have made.
"Considering how good Queensbury is, we definitely made strides from games we had against them recently," she said. "We took ourselves out of the [fifth] game mentally. Queensbury has been the toughest team we have faced this year. We were tested and just made some mistakes we normally don't make. We are going to learn from it."
The Spartans put Johnstown (6-2 Foothills) in a hole early in the first game with Brooke Meader delivered an 8-0 game-opening service run.
The Lady Bills answered with a five-point service run from Zara Hyde and strong net play by Hannah Breda and Annie Stock to pull even at 10. The Spartans regrouped and held off a late-game surge from Johnstown to claim the opener 25-19.
Hyde got Johnstown off to a fast start in the second game with her strong service run that Queensbury's Sarah McMahon answered to draw the Spartans even.
Consecutive power hits for points from Kaitlyn Duesler put the Lady Bills back in control until late in the game when Carey called a time out.
The Spartans rallied to tie the game at 20 and took the lead 24-21. Johnstown fought back with a pair of kills from Stock and a block by Breda to claim the 26-24 victory.
"We had a couple of moments there where we pulled back and they took advantage of it to comeback to steal the game from us," Carey said. "We had a set plan when we went in and we scraped it halfway through and went to something else. It is nice to see that they were able to do that."
Johnstown carried its momentum over to the third game with Hyde serving and setting up Stock to find open spots in the Queensbury defense with solid kills.
Neither team was able to break away to more than a four-point advantage as they swapped leads before Jenna Bureau put the game away for the Spartans with her kill through a double-block attempt for a 25-22 win and a 2-1 advantage.
The Lady Bills forced a fifth game with a scrappy fourth game that saw the score deadlocked nine times.
Johnstown gained control after Queensbury tied the game at 21. Breda collected a block and Duesler a diving dig to keep the ball in play off a hard drive by Savannah Brayton. Alyssa Nellis stuffed a Queensbury set that was too close to the net to the floor for the game-winner, 25-22, tying the match at two games apiece.
The Spartans turned to Meader to get them off to start them off in the fifth and deciding game and she responded with strong service to take an early lead.
Johnstown responded behind a kill and service run from Stock to tie the game at five.
The Spartans took over, forcing Johnstown mistakes with a combination of well-placed pushes and strong hits to take a 25-11 victory.
"We kind of deviated from what works getting short sets in the middle and when it is not there setting it outside," Carey said. "We spent a lot of time trying to cut the ball instead of pushing it to the corners without being predictable. It comes down to where they need to be comfortable enough to push it to win games against really tough teams."
Bureau and Brayton finished with 11 kills apiece for Queensbury, while Meader had 31 assists and seven aces.
"Our objective was to shut Annie [Stock] down it didn't happen," Carey said. "We can make enough points and slow her down a bit because she is going to get her kills and that is what we meant to do. We are lucky it worked out that way."
Stock finished with 22 kills and 17 digs for Johnstown, and Hyde had 50 assists to go with 14 digs.
Breda contributed 13 kills and six blocks, while Duesler had 12 kills. Elizabeth Hayward contributed 17 digs to the Lady Bills' game, while Nellis added six kills.
"I am not going to beat myself up too much about this but we could have done this," McGuire said. "If our heads were in it, we really could have done it."