By Dave Price
Appeal Sports Writer
When the chips were down, the Carson High volleyball team dug down and pulled out one of its best efforts of the season on Thursday night. When the match was on the line, the South Tahoe Vikings were able to reach down and dig out an exciting five-set victory against Carson in a battle at Morse Burley Gymnasium.
Jessica Bettencourt, Dana Jensen and Christina Baghdikian all had double-doubles in kills and digs to help South Tahoe come from behind to clinch second-place in the Sierra League with a 23-25, 25-17, 25-20, 22-25, 15-12 triumph.
The Vikings are now 10-2 and the Senators 7-5 in league.
"Everybody played well tonight," Carson coach Shana Wilkins said. "I wish we could have won, but everybody played with a lot of heart and intensity. They wanted to win and it showed."
The Senators got off on the wrong foot, literally, when 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker Nicole Scott rolled an ankle at the end of warm-ups and was unable to play at all. It's been that kind of season for a team that has been plagued by injuries and illness almost from day one.
"This whole season, we've never had our whole team together at the same time," said senior Sandra McAlman, who played for the first time since going down with a serious knee injury in the preseason.
"Tonight, we played as a team better than we have before," she added. "When you lose someone , you just have to step up and play harder. I thought this was one of our best games as far as sticking it out to the end."
McAlman showed considerable grit just being on the court with a brace on her right knee after an injury in which she sustained a torn ACL, torn meniscus and dislocated kneecap on Sept. 1 at Whittell. McAlman, a state meet qualifier in the long jump during the spring track and field season, was able to fly around enough to contribute 48 digs and seven kills.
"The knee is gone," Wilkins said. "She's going to have surgery after the season, but she was released to play because she can't do any more damage to it. And she played awesome tonight."
Meanwhile, freshman Sandie Howard filled in for Scott at middle blocker and delivered 11 blocks, seven kills and five digs.
"Sandie stepped up and played great," Wilkins said. "That was probably the best game of her life."
Setter Lindsay Ford, Howard as well as sisters Alex and Sandra McAlman came up big as Carson evened the match score by winning a fourth game that featured eight lead changes and 15 ties.
"When you're behind, you've got nothing to lose," Sandra McAlman said.
Ford fed quick sets to Howard for two kills that gave Carson the lead. Ford set Catherine Brekken for a kill to tie the score at 20, then Ford tipped the ball to open space to tie it at 21. The Senators went up 23-22 after Ford set Alex McAlman for a crosscourt shot at the end of a rally Sandra McAlman kept alive with a diving dig in the back. Ford's ace inside the back line made it 24-22 and Alex McAlman closed out the game with a crosscourt shot.
Ford was solid all-around with 46 assists, seven blocks, 10 digs and four kills. Catherine Brekken contributed eight kills and five blocks for the Senators.
In the final game, Carson held 3-1, 7-5 and 9-8 leads before South Tahoe came up with one final push behind its three statistical leaders. Bettencourt put down a set from Stephanie Morrow to tie the score at 9, Baghdikian's kill made it 10-9 and Jensen followed with a shot to extend the lead to 11-9. The Vikings never trailed again.
Bettencourt had 14 kills, Jensen had 13 despite aggravating a muscle tear in her back, and Baghdikian had 11. However, coach Gary Hankoff was even more enthused by the numbers he saw in the digs column - Baghdikian 18, Jensen 15, Hillary Santana 14 and Bettencourt 12.
"Four girls with double digit digs, that's probably the story right there," Hankoff said. "That's kind of what we're all about. We're not a great sideout team, so we need to play good defense."
They needed a good effort to turn back the improved Senators.
"Carson is much improved from the last time we saw them," said Hankoff, whose Vikings beat Carson in three straight on Sept. 27 in South Lake Tahoe. "They were able to side-out better than we did, but I think we were able to transition better than they did and that was probably the difference.
"This was an important to us just because we needed to play a team that plays a fast volleyball game. We play Whittell next week and then we go into zone, so we definitely needed this."
The Senators will try to secure third-place in league when they play at Wooster on Tuesday and then Reno on Thursday. In between, they visit McQueen for a nonconference match on Wednesday.
Carson dropped into fourth-place in the standings, but hosts Reno in a Senior Night matchup for the No. 3 spot to end the regular season next Thursday.
"That's our goal. We want that No. 3 seed," Wilkins said, referring to seeding for the Northern 4A Regional Tournament on Nov. 4-5 at McQueen High in Reno.
"I think we have some good games left," Sandra McAlman said. "All the seniors and everybody, we've got to step it up and try to bring it to the end."
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or 881-1220.