It's tough to pick what was more important to break, the three-game losing streak or the tie for second place in Region IX-North.
The Eastern Wyoming College volleyball team broke both Tuesday night with its biggest win of the season, a grinding five-set (20-25, 25-22, 25-27, 27-25, 15-9) match against a resurgent Laramie County Community College.
The Lancers (20-11, 6-3) now hold a one-game lead over the Golden Eagles (7-22, 5-4) in Region IX-North with three matches left to play for each team. The win also gave the advantage to EWC in the case both teams finish with identical records in the North.
"Absolutely, 100 percent, our biggest and best win of the season," EWC head coach Dante Geoffrey said. "After all that we went through last week, on and off the court, with three losses, this was a must-win and I couldn't be prouder of the fight we showed."
The Lancers maintained that fight and focus even after relinquishing a commanding 18-12 lead in the fourth set, putting what looked like a sure shot at a fifth set into jeopardy. The Golden Eagles scored seven straight points to take a 19-18 lead, quieting what had been an energetic Verl Petsch Jr. Activity Center.
"There were times in the past, even last week, that a run by our opponent like that would have sunk us for good," Geoffrey said. "But the doubt that has crept in before was replaced by true belief in who we are as a team and that lifted us, point by point."
Sophomore outside hitter Charlène Hosly earned a kill out of a timeout to knot the score at 19, but a long rally that ended in a Golden Eagle kill followed by an LCCC ace gave the visitors a 21-19 advantage, the last two-point lead either side would have until the end.
Ties of 23-23, 24-24 and 25-25 were won by the Lancers, keeping the Golden Eagles' backs against the wall, but it wasn't until a Hosly kill – made possible by a backrow dig from Nadia Montalbán El-Hiriche – gave the Lancers the final set-point they would need.
Freshman middle Lauren Feierabend's serve forced LCCC out of system, leading to a ball-handling error that gave the Lancers the 27-25 win and sent the match to a first-to-15 race for a first-round bye at the region tournament.
"That was 14 points of alternating agony and exhilaration," Geoffrey said of the fourth set's finale. "In and out of system, all six players on the court were making plays, saving balls that looked like sure LCCC kills and finding ways to score even in imperfect circumstances."
Freshman outside Vanja Pržulj led all players with a career-high 27 kills and a .322 hitting percentage. Przulj scored seven of those kills in the fourth set, and another three in the fifth.
"She was unstoppable tonight, and came up big in the most important situations," Geoffrey said. "It's even more impressive when you think about how their defense was keying on her. She did a great job of mixing up her swings with tips and rolls to get kills no matter what the block was or wasn't doing."
Freshman right side Alyssa Parmelee finished the night third on the team in kills with nine and a .259 hitting percentage.
Eastern scored a season-high 64 kills Tuesday night, two more than in a five-set loss to Western Wyoming on Oct. 5.
"We had a slower, more deliberate practice the night before, and worked a lot on our setter-hitter connection," Geoffrey said. "Our setters were in a great rhythm for most of these five sets and put our hitters in position to succeed. And even when they set a ball too fast or too tight, they were aware of it right away and made the right adjustments on the next ball."
Sophomore Lexi Trowbridge had a season-high 30 assists, followed by freshman Devyn Volz' 24, tied for the second-most she's had this season. Both setters earned double-doubles with 17 and 14 digs, respectively, career highs for each. Volz led the Lancers with three service aces while Trowbridge had two, including one that broke a 6-6 tie in the fifth set.
Freshman libero J'Adore Hayes led the Lancers with 22 digs while scoring two aces of her own. The backrow defense of Hayes, Montalban El-Hiriche (11 digs), Hosly (17 digs), and the setters extended rallies and created new opportunities for the attack in key late-game situations during the fourth and fifth sets.
"Even our middles totaled 11 digs," Geoffrey said. "Everyone was aware of their surroundings and ready to make a play.
"We have three more games in the North to work on that mindset and effort, and if we do that we'll be in a good place mentally heading into the tournament."
The Lancers' final home game of 2019 is at 7 p.m. on Friday against Casper.