What had to be in the back of their minds all day leapt to the forefront for the No. 1 seeded Mountain Ridge volleyball team as they dropped an error-filled second game of their opening-round playoff match with No. 16 Pinnacle on Tuesday.
The Mountain Lions had lost first-round home games to end each of their three previous seasons. But this squad quickly righted itself, displaying its depth and mental toughness in a 25-12, 21-25, 25-15, 25-19 win over Pinnacle.
In the third and fourth games, Mountain Ridge (31-6 overall, 17-1 in power point games) set fire to what once haunted them. And junior opposite hitter Lindsay Skadeland was there to light the match.
"We know each other, so we're good at picking each other up," Skadeland said. "It feels so good to break that curse."
Skadeland put the Mountain Lions up 3-2 early in game four with two consecutive kills. She finished with a match high 16.
It looked as if Mountain Ridge might cruise, taking a 13-3 lead, but Pinnacle battled back twice, cutting the deficit to 14-9 and trimming a 17-10 deficit to 18-14 to force a time out.
Pinnacle's big gun, 6-3 junior Cassie Hendricks, led the comeback with three of her team-leading 15 kills. But after picking up four straight points to claw to 23-19, Pinnacle could not stop two straight tips by junior Kami Zoller.
"That's been the story of our season. We never give up. We keep fighting until the end," Pinnacle coach Carl DeFriez said. "We're learning to develop consistency and intensity as we go. But I'm very proud of the girls. All season long, we fought. That's why we never give up."
"They're a force to be reckoned with."
The Mountain Lions didn't need as much offense after game one was tied at nine. Pinnacle gave up the next seven points on errors, then junior libero Mary Claire Tuohy and Zoller hit serves the Pioneers couldn't handle.
After switching sides, the teams seemed to switch places. Mountain Ridge's errors began to pile up in game two and a 10-7 lead vanished, replaced with a 16-11 Pinnacle lead.
The Mountain Lions fought back, but two rotation violations and a net violation helped preserve Pinnacle's advantage.
Once they cleaned things up, the Mountain Lions showed why they are the top seed. Thursday, Mountain Ridge must prove itself again in a quarterfinal against No. 8 Phoenix Mountain Pointe.
The Pride outlasted No. 9 Chandler Basha in a five-set battle Thursday.
Meanwhile, Pinnacle accomplished its main goal, and did it in the deeper Division I after missing the 5A-II playoffs last year. The Pioneers will miss four seniors but return Hendricks and several others that played key roles.
"It meant everything to us. Making the playoffs was a goal that we set early in the season," DeFriez said. "Having a very young team, we knew it was going to be a challenge. Our seniors set a great example for the younger players and we look forward to coming back next year."