BRADLEY — By the time Manteno took a 17-16 lead in the third set of its neck-and-neck nonconference matchup at Bradley-Bourbonnais, the two teams already had accounted for 13 ties and 14 lead changes.
But once the Panthers took that lead, they never gave it back, as they pulled away for a 25-20 win to earn a 2-1 victory Monday.
The win improved Manteno’s record to 19-5 on the year. Bradley-Bourbonnais fell to 13-13.
The Panthers pull away at the end of the third to win 25-20 and take this one 2-1. You're not gonna see much better and more competitive volleyball than these two teams showed tonight. #tdjs pic.twitter.com/7XOFKptNsa— Mason Schweizer (@MSchweizerTDJS) October 8, 2019
“We just go point by point,” Panthers coach Jocelyn Ferris said. “Whatever the score is, the next point we can earn is all we think about. We were just worried about what we could do right now to get that point.”
In the early going, all the Panthers could do was get the next point. They scored the first six of the game and, although the Boilers were able to eventually pull within one at 24-23, were able to wrap up a thrilling 25-23 win in set one.
Ferris said the Panthers rolled into Bradley full of energy and determination in their local rivalry with the biggest school in the area.
“I think we were just really excited coming into this game,” Ferris said. “It’s always been another one of those rivalries we always have in mind, so we came out with a lot of energy and tried to keep that going.”
The Boilers began to match that energy with their rally at the end of the first game and carried it over to the second, as Mallory Januski had two kills and a block in the first four points to spark what was a 7-2 Boiler run out of the gate.
“We talked about getting our passes closer to the net so that [setter] Reece [Brown] could run a more successful offense,” Boilers coach Leigh Reiniche said. “Moving the ball with Mallory, just not having her stuck in one spot, trying to pick apart the defense where to attack.”
Januski racked up 13 kills on the night and had support up front from Avery Kemp and Courtney Hunter, who each seemed to make a play whenever it was needed in the second set.
Reiniche said the benefit of second and third options for primary offense helps the Boilers be a more well-rounded team, something they showed in their second-set surge.
“Having an offensive threat in all six rotations is obviously a benefit,” Reiniche said. “When we have one hitter off and another steps up, that’s great, but we don’t need just that one person — because when a team shuts that down, we have to have confidence with someone to step up.”
As the Boilers did in the first, the Panthers were able to overcome their early stumble at the start of the set and claw their way back to tie it at 20 and 24 before the Boilers scored the last two points to earn a 26-24 win and force a decisive third set.
The Panthers didn’t take the set, but Reese Bachus, who had a team-high 10 kills and also racked up 23 digs, said the team came out with some nerves once they got a set away from victory but then remembered last season’s victory against the Boilers and knew they could do the same thing Monday.
“I would say that we got nervous after the first [set],” Bachus said. “But then we realized we beat them last year and that we could beat them again.”
The third set opened up as tight as a tick, with each team trading blows on long, well played volleys, with Januski, Kemp and Hunter matching up with the Panthers’ front line of Elena Gomez and Alex Rodriguez for entertaining plays at the net.
“They have come a long way this season to see a lot of the things we’ve been working on already being done in a game,” Ferris said of Gomez and Rodriguez. “Playing a higher-level team can bring it out in the girls.
“The level of play that they were at tonight was just amazing, and they really tried to just own that net.”
Neither team was able to pull ahead by more than a pair of points for more than half the set until the Panthers went ahead 18-16 after a Januski kill attempt was just left of the sideline marker. Sariah Schulteis stepped up with an ace, and a kill sandwiched by a Januski kill made it 20-17.
The offensive contributions late were just a piece of Schulteis’ night that included a team-high 24 digs, leading a back line Ferris said was crucial in the win.
“Our back row, the amount of touches they earned really helped us in the long run, so we were able to have an offense at all,” Ferris said. “B-B has a lot of great hitters and talent up front, so for us to be able to keep that ball in play was really important.”
With the score at 21-19, Gomez took center stage to wrap up the Panthers’ victory, picking up a pair of kills, including the game-winner, as part of her eight-kill night for the Panthers.
“It’s so great for her to read the ball and hitters as well as she did,” Ferris said. “Just to be aware of where the net was really is is so helpful.”
Reiniche credited the Panthers’ serving down the stretch with being able to disrupt their own offensive rhythm as the match winded down.
“Their serve is really tough,” Reiniche said. “They hit our zone one and kind of broke our one and six serve receive apart to the point where we couldn’t run something successful.”
And for Gomez, the ability to pull out a tight win against a top-notch, local rival was a worthy reward for the Panthers’ play.
“It’s really fun to see that good competition and be able to go back and forth,” Gomez said. “Every year, it’s just a great game. It’s great just to be playing with them and also play a great game with our team.”
The Panthers are back in Illinois Central Eight Conference action with a 6 p.m. home meeting with Reed-Custer. The Boilers will be back in action with a pair of matches as hosts of the MoldenHauer Classic on Wednesday.