North Stokes looked like the top team in the Northwest for two sets, then Mount Airy mounted a furious comeback that fell just short Tuesday 3-2.
The Lady Bears, who lost their first eight volleyball matches, have found their groove and look prepared for a strong second trip through the conference schedule.
They came back from two sets down to force a third set and went all the way to a 10-all tie before falling 15-11.
In the first set, the Lady Vikings went on an 8-0 run to turn a close 3-2 game into an 11-2 lead.
The lead would grow to 18-4, then finished 25-7.
“Getting beaten 25-7 is getting taken behind the wood shed,” said Coach Chuck Morris. The team might have had a little too much nervous energy at the start.
Morris had been warning his girls that the Vikings are in first place in the conference, and that might have made them a little nervous. Then, they got an emotional boost before the first whistle when they honored a returning soldier.
Junior Autumn Mason and her teammates welcomed back her big brother, Marine Cpl. Payden Mason, from a stint in Afghanistan.
Pumped up, the Bears had a lot of unforced errors in the first set, hitting serves into the net and spikes out long.
The slump continued into the second game as North Stokes jumped out to a 7-1 lead. Gradually the Bears began to find ways to score. Even though they lost 25-13, the offense was showing signs of life.
“We still had a few too many passing errors in the first two sets, but after that, the passing was much better,” said Morris. He said the Bears had only three passing errors in the last three sets combined.
“Kat came alive, everyone else picked it up around her,” he said, referring to senior leader Kathryn Beasley, who posted 23 kills — most of them after those first two sets.
“In sets three and four, she was definitely the strongest player on the floor,” he said.
When these players fully grasp that they have to give their all on every single point, they will be able to hang with everyone, he noted.
The Bears certainly understood the concept on this night.
From being down 2-1, the Bears ran off seven straight points in the third set.
The Vikings might have let their guard down, up 2-0, noted Morris.
After a Viking timeout, the match turned into a heavyweight prize fight with both sides throwing haymakers.
Big swings resulted in hard kills or stuff blocks. Tipped balls were chased down by diving players.
The Bears were up 17-13 when Beasley hammered a ball through a block attempt. A North player dove and hit the ball with one fist, driving it into the net.
A teammate dove forward and hit the ball as it bounced back, but the ball again went into the net.
A third Viking player slid forward and bumped the ball over the net to save the rally, and eventually North got the point.
That seemed to spark the visitors, who caught up and tied the match at 19-all.
The Bears refused to fold and kept battling all the way to a 25-22 win.
Amy Kunkel and Abby Harold combined for 10 blocks from the middle hitter position.
North Stokes was having so much trouble trying to hit through those two that the Vikings began tipping around the blocks instead, finding some holes on the floor.
Kunkel appeared to suffer a dislocated finger in the fourth set, but returned after her hand was taped up and continued to play well.
The fourth set ended just as the third did, with the Bears pulling out a tightly contested 25-22 win.
In the fifth set, the two teams were even until fatigue led to some errors at the end to give North a 15-11 set.
“We took some good swings tonight,” Morris said of his hitters. “North Stokes is one of the best defensive teams we’ve played this year.” He said he was really impressed with libero Tina Frye.
“We could have used the win, but it’s all about the journey,” said Morris.
After starting the season 0-8, the Bears beat Walkertown and East Wilkes in the previous two matches.
The offense recently was changed to feed the ball to freshman Sarah Lankford on every pass.
Since the change, Lankford is averaging nine assists a set and finished with 33 Tuesday.
On Monday, the Bears travel to Virginia to play Patrick County.