ELDON – The Cardinal High School volleyball team has been a hard team to put away this season.
The Comets proved to be just as tough to close out Tuesday night in a Southeast Iowa Superconference south battle with Danville. In one of the final chances for the program to pick up an SEISC win, Cardinal nearly erased the two largest leads of the night for the visiting Bears.
Ultimately, Cardinal could only manage to get within two points of Danville in each of the final two sets before the Bears secured set point and match point, closing out a 25-20, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22 win over the Comets. Defense at the net helped put the Bears over the top with a block by Rylee Morris and Nealey Hulse closing out the third game before Emma Becker was forced into a low hit that failed to clear the top of the net on Danville's third match point in the fourth set.
"The perseverance of the girls, even from the beginning of the season, has always been there," Cardinal head volleyball coach Candice Guiter said. "I think we kind of hit a plateau part way through our season because we didn't have the confidence in ourselves. I think we're starting to get that back. From this point, we just have to finish."
Cardinal rode an emotional high out to the court after honoring seniors Josie Courtney, Sydney Pickrell and Riley Bears prior to the match. The Comet trio combined to serve up 10 of Cardinal's 14 aces in the match, helping spark each of the late rallies in the final two games on Tuesday.
"There was definitely a lot of effort from everyone," Pickrell said. "We got down a lot, but we always picked ourselves up."
Pickrell would provide Cardinal with a winning spark in the second game after falling in the opener on the strength of a 9-1 closing run by Danville. The senior hitter collected her 100th kill of the season as one of eight winners at the net with four offensive points scored after the Bears had taken a 21-20 lead late in the game.
"I've been on and off this season," Pickrell said. "There are some days where I just want to go out there and win. This was one of those nights.
"When everyone is on, it multiplies our intensity and everything starts to fall together for us," Courtney added. "We work together and we play so well when we're spot on. There's just always those moments where something goes wrong and it seems to bring us down."
Danville (8-14, 4-5 SEI south) started to capitalize on those down moments in each of the final two games. The Bears scored five of the first seven points in the pivotal third game and saw the lead grow as Cardinal began missing attacks long or missing on swings entirely at the net.
Consecutive kills by Morris gave Danville a 19-10 lead in the third set, the largest lead at any point in the match for the Bears. Cardinal used their serving to get back in the set with aces by Courtney, Becker and Bears triggering a 9-2 run the pulled the Comets within 21-19.
Danville will finally secure the serves of the Comets well enough to set up key winners by Alexis Dietsch and Micah Svoboda, putting away the third set. The Bears continued to thrive at the net early in the fourth set, collecting 12 kills on the way to opening a 20-12 lead over the Comets.
Cardinal again refused to go away without a fight. Pickrell finished her 24-point night for the Comets scoring an ace and three more kills during an 8-2 run that cut Danville's lead to 22-20 before two hitting errors by the Comets gave the Bears four match points.
Megan Ward and Cynthia Albert saved the first match point for Cardinal, blocking a swing at the net to cut Danville's lead to 24-21. Hulse missed long on her attack on Danville's second match point before Becker, trying to save the third match point, was stopped by the presence of the Bears on her attack on the 186th point of the night.
"I feel like that's how we are as a team," Courtney said. "At the start of the year, we took every team at the English Valleys Tournament to a decisive set. We work well under pressure.
"It's just always our finish, but we have really good energy for the most part," Pickrell added after finishing with a match-high 18 kills on Tuesday.
Morris and Svoboda each led Danville with 11 kills in the match as the Bears used 20 blocks as a team to put away a tough road conference win. Cardinal (4-19, 0-8 SEI south) heads to fifth-ranked (1A) Holy Trinity on Thursday.