Heading into Thursday's home match against Hickman High School, the Lady Pintos volleyball team had responded to their loss to Blair Oaks by winning their following three matches. California's record stood at a strong 12-1-1 entering the matchup.
In addition, California received two pieces of good news last week when both senior Bailey Lage and junior Emma Parish returned from ankle injuries and were cleared to play on Thursday. But despite getting back Lage and Parish, the Lady Pintos lost another key player. Senior front-liner Ella Lewis caught an illness during the weekend and wouldn't be able to play against Hickman. With Lewis out, head coach Julie Bailey had to change rotations on player positions throughout the night.
Despite battling to take the match to a fourth set, the Lady Pintos fell for just the second time in the season, losing 3-1 (25-27, 25-19, 21-25, 17-25).
After jumping out to a 23-15 lead in the opening set, the Lady Pintos seemed on their way to take a victory in the first set. That is, until Hickman caught fire and went on a scoring run that the Lady Pintos didn't have an answer for. Hickman stunned everyone by ending the first set on a 12-2 run and stole the 1-0 lead, winning the first set 27-25.
Though California tied the match by winning the second set 25-19, Hickman found multiple ways to swing the momentum of the set in their favor. And with every point they scored, the Lady Kewpies would become more confident and stronger. From there, the Lady Kewpies seemed to have all the answers to California's game. The stunning upset would belong to Hickman.
Bailey credited her team for playing hard and keeping a positive mindset throughout the contest, but admitted that the loss of Ella Lewis cost them dearly.
"Not only did we miss Ella's hitting and blocking, but she's also a great team leader on the court. Not having her out there made it tough," Bailey said. "We had to make all kinds of other adjustments. Even though Bailey (Lage) is back, she can't play front row. We didn't want to take that chance in her first game back with a weak ankle. We had to sub in sophomores. We've been using them, but it just makes for a different dynamic."
Bailey said Hickman was able to pull off the first set comeback due in large part to their hitting. It appeared every time Hickman scored a point during that 12-2 run, California started playing more tentatively.
"They started hitting the ball and our girls stopped hitting the ball. We had some miscommunications and some miscues, but we just quit hitting," Bailey said." We play scared instead of aggressive, and our hitters who normally put the ball away kind of seemed a little bit timid once they got blocked and hit a couple of balls out of bounds. That made it easier for Hickman just to pound the ball at us."
The loss to Hickman marked only California's second loss of the season and first loss at home. Nevertheless, the Lady Pintos picked themselves back up and traveled to Warrensburg for a varsity tournament Saturday. After going 2-2 at the tournament, California's record now sits at a still-strong record of 14-4-1.
The Lady Pintos now enter their second-to-last week of the regular season. Their schedule for the next week includes two road games, the first at Helias Catholic on Thursday and the second at Fatima next Tuesday.