If it didn't know already, Carson High's volleyball team found out just how important senior middle blocker Nicole Scott is to the squad.
Scott is suffering from a bad virus and was in the hospital Tuesday night when the Senators played their home opener against Dayton.
Carson wasn't able to attack the middle consistently, but still managed to pull out a 20-25, 25-17, 25-18, 16-25 and 15-10 victory over the scrappy and inexperienced Dust Devils.
Scott's absence forced Carson coach Shana Wilkins to pull up 6-foot-2 freshman Sandie Howard from the JV squad, and she responded with six blocks. Not to demean her efforts, but she doesn't have the same court presence as Scott, who has been a fixture in the middle the last few years. Scott won't return to action until next week.
"Sandie didn't go to Vegas with us last weekend, so this was her first match of the season" Wilkins said. "Nicole is a huge part of this team. She's a stud. It was huge (that she didn't play).
"We played mediocre, sloppy volleyball." Wilkins was especially displeased with Carson's ball-handling efforts.
Conversely, Dayton coach Sondra McMullen, whose team was battered by graduation, was happy with her team.
"I'm pleasantly surprised; pleased is the right word," she said after the five-set heartbreaker. "We're not very big this year, so we have to be strong on defense.''
And the Dust Devils were just that. They hustled to keep balls alive and hit the floor more times than they would care to remember.
In the end, it took some nice plays by Alex McAlman, Catherine Brekken, Sandra McAlman, Michelle Raponi and Morgan Nuckolls to push the Senators over the top in the final set.
The teams were deadlocked at 5 and 6, but Carson rattled off four of the next five points to take a 10-7 lead. Raponi's ace off the net made it 8-6, but Dayton cut the lead to 8-7 when Nuckolls (4 kills) knocked one into the net. Alex McAlman countered with a kill and Nuckolls knocked down a kill despite a tough Dayton block.
An errant serve and Brekken's kill attempt that sailed long helped Dayton close to 10-9. Nuckolls knocked down another kill to make it 11-9, and Carson made it a three-point lead when Dayton's Michelle Bowman, who had 23 assists and two blocks, had her left-handed tip land just wide. Sara Simmons (8 kills) tipped one over the Senators' front lined to make it 12-10, but Carson ran off the next three points to win the match. Sandra McAlman (6 blocks, 6 digs) had a nice tip to make it 14-10 before Gina Henderson (7 kills) hit one into the net to end the 2-hour match.
"We were more focused (in the fifth set)," Wilkins said. "They were working hard to make sure they were doing their job. It paid off."
In the opening game, neither team was able to gain any early momentum. The opening set was tied nine different times - 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, 17, 19 and 20 - before the Dust Devils rattled off the final five points to win 25-20.
Diana Rutt, who led her team with nine kills, had four in the opening game. Twice she knocked down kills off Carson blocks. The second tied the match at 19. Kasey Armstrong gave Dayton a 20-19 lead with a well-placed tip only to see Carson bounce right back and tie the game. A serve-receive error and two net violations helped the Dust Devils close out the match.
In the second set, the teams were tied at 10 when Carson scored eight of the next nine points for an 18-11 lead. Dayton never got any closer than six points the rest of the way. Sandra McAlman had four blocks in the game.
The third game went much the same way. Carson, thanks to some net violations and poor hitting by Dayton, broke open a tight 12-10 game with an 8-2 run en route to a 20-12 advantage. Brekken had a key kill and Nuckolls served an ace.
McMullen said that Carson did a better job of hitting at the net in the second and third sets compared to the opening set.
Carson trailed most of the fourth game, but made a nice run to close to 18-16. The Senators were beneficiaries of a net serve and a couple of mishits. Nuckolls and Nicole Carvelato each had key kills in the comeback.
The Senators didn't score again. Dayton ran off the next seven points to even the match at 2-all. Caty Cross served up an off-the-net ace and Simmons slammed home a ball off a Carson block attempt to end the game.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281