MUNSTER | Excitement had faded, and a Valparaiso win seemed to be an imminent formality.
Already behind 2-1 in the count, Munster trailed the fourth game 11-3 Thursday night at Munster Fieldhouse.
Then Munster coach Tracy Summers implored her volleyball team to rally with everything it had.
"We just talked in the huddle about the fact that we were acting tired," Summers said. "I told them, ‘I need you to want every ball and show it to everyone in this gym that you’re not going to lay down and die.’"
As the exhausted payers' faces pressed up against water jugs, the message replenished the Times No. 3 Mustangs, and they went on to defeat visiting No. 2 Valparaiso 25-20, 23-25, 17-25, 26-24, 15-9 in a potential regional preview.
"A lot of the girls were really fueled up and said, ‘We’re not going to let this go down like this,’" Summer said. "(By the fifth game) we had already shown ourselves that we could dig out of a hole."
Munster (2-0), a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference, improved to 2-0 against Duneland Athletic Conference foes, with a match with No. 1 Lake Central up next.
Munster senior middle hitter Elizabeth Kloos took charge in the middle to help cut the Valpo lead to 15-13, and things began to open up as the Mustangs fixed some serve-receive flaws and made tough digs to rally and eventually tie it at 19. Ties followed at 20-, 23- and 24-all, and junior Quinn Harris had a big kill to break the final tie before an error on Valpo ended the grueling set.
Munster star Shannon Farrell (10 kills, 23 digs) was everywhere early in the decisive fifth game as the Mustangs went up 5-1 and, despite a 7-7 tie, were in control on the way to the win.
"I could see something change in (Farrell) during the captain’s meeting before the last game," Summers said. “It was just this fiery look. I knew good things were about to happen.”
Kloos (12 kills, 8 blocks, 5 digs, 3 aces) was again huge in the fifth game, but throughout the night she drew blockers away from the ball to open up attack opportunities for Antonia DalleCarbonare, who led the Mustangs with 13 kills and added 19 digs and six assists.
"She just played awesome for us at outside hitter," Summers said of DalleCarbonare.
Munster and Valpo were tied at 11 in the opening set before Munster pulled away. The second game was tied at 21, 22 and 23 despite Munster not holding a lead for one second of the game. Prior to the fourth game being tied at 24, Munster never led in that game either.
Valparaiso (1-1) got its usual stellar play from Noelle Eveland, but freshman Rachel Bontrager played toe to toe with some of the best seniors in the area. The 6-foot-1 middle hitter stuffed Kloos a few times and found space in the Munster defense time after time for big kills.
“I saw good moments, and we’re going to try to build on that and not dwell on the negativity,” Valpo coach Katie Lenard said.