Oak Mountain beats Spain Park in five-set thriller between top 10 teams

Published 4:28 pm Monday, September 18, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY In a back-and-forth battle between two of the early contenders in Class 7A, something had to give as the Oak Mountain Eagles and Spain Park Jaguars entered the final set of their matchup on Thursday, Sept. 14 at Oak Mountain High School.

Ultimately, it was the Eagles who stormed out to the lead midway through the fifth set to take a crucial area matchup over their close rival Spain Park by a final score of 3-2.

“In tight matches like that, the team that comes out on top is whoever is playing best in set five,” Oak Mountain coach Grace Burgess said. “Nothing else really matters. So, I’m proud of them.”

The two teams were close in the opening points of the first set, but Spain Park took an early 9-7 lead before the teams traded points. However, Oak Mountain took the lead at 17-16 and regained it at 20-19 after the Jags briefly led again.

Spain Park tied up the set twice in the final stretch, but the Eagles took the final three points to win the set, 25-22, and take a 1-0 lead.

Oak Mountain used that momentum to grab a 6-3 lead early in the set, but Spain Park went on a 4-0 run that led to another back-and-forth stretch where the Jags erased multiple Oak Mountain advantages.

With the set tied at 15, the Jags won a pair of points with Cailyn Kyes on the serve, including a Kyes ace, to take a 17-15 lead.

That slight lead proved to be all that Spain Park needed to see out the set, as the Jags held off an Eagles charge out of a timeout to secure the set, 25-20, thanks to back-to-back Reagan Gilbert aces.

With the match tied at one set win apiece, Oak Mountain started the third set strong and took a five-point lead, which forced a Spain Park timeout. The Eagles held onto the lead throughout the set and extended it further to go up 21-15.

Two points later, Mabrey Whitehead scored an emphatic kill for Oak Mountain, and she earned another kill to put the Eagles on set point. However, the Jags went on a 4-0 run to pull within four points of tying the set, but Whitehead struck again to put away the third set, 25-20, for the Eagles.

Now with its back against the wall down 2-1, Spain Park immediately responded by opening the fourth set on an 8-3 run to force a timeout. While the Jags held on to their lead throughout the set, Oak Mountain did not make life easy for Spain Park.

The Jags were forced to call a timeout after a spectacular free ball kill from Jenna Burson capped off three straight Eagles points that renewed their energy. Spain Park responded with four straight points to go up 14-7.

Oak Mountain called a timeout after they faced a 19-14 deficit, but the Eagles stormed back with a 7-2 run to tie the set at 21, with the tying point coming from a big right-side block to force a Jags timeout.

The teams traded points until they were tied at 23, but Spain Park took the set, 25-23, thanks to a Megan Ingersoll kill and an ace from Alexa Benda.

With the match now tied going into the fifth set, Oak Mountain took a 4-2 lead to open the set, but Spain Park tied up the set at 4 with Cailyn Kyes on the serve. The Eagles would respond strongly with five straight points with Lauren Schuessler on the serve to go up 9-4.

Even though Spain Park tried to close the gap, Oak Mountain won three of the final four points to win the fifth set, 15-7, and the match, 3-2.

After the match, Burgess was proud of players like Emma Claire Jones for their work in the film room studying the game plan, and she believed it was the Eagles’ serving down the stretch that made the difference on the night.

“We were struggling a little bit offensively in the fourth set there to start, which made our lives a little hard,” Burgess said. “And then at the end, I think serving took it over for us. I think they just said, ‘we’re just going to serve as hard as we can,’ and they did it, and it made it a lot easier for us when we started doing that.”

With the win, Oak Mountain improved to 4-0 in area play with just two area matches remaining. Burgess is proud of her team for getting to this point but recognizes that the real fight is just beginning.

“I think it’s big for their confidence,” Burgess said. “I think that they know that they can do it now and they see how their hard work has really paid off. But I wouldn’t say it sets us up for anything good. Now, the target’s on our back. Now, everybody playing us is coming at us harder.”