HUBBARD - It would be nearly impossible for anyone at the Howland-Hubbard volleyball match to single out a defining moment.
The momentum swung on every point. The crowd grew louder from serve to serve. The intensity was at its peak from the first point and never dropped.
Yet, the coaches for the respective teams agreed that a turning point did exist.
With Hubbard leading, 23-22, in Game 2 of this All-American Conference clash, Howland's Erika Lapmardo, one of the top players in the area, smashed a spike over the net. A Hubbard defender somehow managed to dig it out and another player went diving out of bounds to save the volley. The Eagles went on to win the point - and eventually the match.
Hubbard outlasted Howland in an epic four-game contest, winning 21-25, 25-23, 25-18, 27-25.
The energy gained from winning that point gave Hubbard (5-0) the surge it needed to bounce back from losing the first game, Eagles coach Jeremy Porter said.
"A play like that, at that point in the game, probably a high percentage of the time the team that makes that play is going to win the game," he said. "Usually in high school, the way we were hitting the ball, nothing like that usually comes back (over the net), and same with them.
"That was some of the best volleyball I've seen in a long time. The intensity was off the charts."
Aside from this being a marquee matchup between two of the area's top teams, there were plenty of other storylines. Howland coach Amanda Lingenfelter is a 2002 Hubbard High School graduate and one of the school's all-time great players. She played for Porter, who was an assistant at the time, and was an assistant for the Eagles for seven seasons. Tuesday's match marked her first return to Hubbard, and it was certainly a game she'll remember.
"It holds some personal importance," she said. "You have to try and step back and keep it realistic to the girls because in theory it doesn't mean all that much. But, of course we wanted to win this match."
Things started out positive for the Tigers (6-3) as they edged Hubbard in Game 1. The second game held even more significance, Lingenfelter said, because a loss would send the momentum back to Hubbard and reignite a packed gymnasium. The game was back and forth, but the Eagles appeared to take control, going up 20-17. Yet that's when Howland started its charge and took a 22-21 advantage. Hubbard fired back, scoring the next two points, including the thrilling save that gave the Eagles a 23-22 lead. The Tigers weren't fazed, cutting it to 24-23, but Hubbard sealed the game when Howland hit an errant shot that went out of bounds.
"Hustle plays definitely bring back the momentum either way," Lingenfelter said. "You come up with a big hit and you think the ball is down, and the other team brings it back over and makes a play out of it. That takes the wind out of your sails. If you do the opposite and make that play, it takes the wind out of their sails. And those didn't quite fall when we needed them to fall."
It was hard to tell who held the momentum for the final two games. While Hubbard won Game 3 somewhat handily, 25-18, the Tigers roared back and led Game 4, 9-1, which marked the biggest lead in the match for either team. Directed by Lapmardo, who led all players with 28 kills, and senior Erika Airhart, Howland seemed to be taking over the match.
"Their outside hitter, Erika Lapmardo, might be the best player in the area," Porter said. "She is unbelievable. I don't think we'll see another player like her this year."
Hubbard wasn't about to give in though. The senior-laden Eagles said they practice situations such as that one every day in practice against the junior varsity and didn't panic during the eight-point deficit.
"It's just like practice, and that's what we said on the court, 'Come one guys. We do this every day,' " said Marquette Gasser, a senior who led the Eagles with 17 service points and 48 assists. "I don't think there's ever a point when anyone thinks that we're losing a game."
Still, this wasn't the junior varsity. This was Howland, one of the strongest teams in the area. Hubbard senior Maris Sarisky said while that may be true, it didn't change the Eagles' mindset.
"We think of it like that," said Sarisky, who paced Hubbard with 19 kills. Her teammate and fellow senior Morgan Lopuchovsky then cut in. "And with having all of our seniors, we want it so bad that we never give up."
Hubbard slowly chipped away at the lead, but every time the Eagles moved within two points, Howland answered. That trend ended late in the game, as Hubbard's KayLyn Garrett slammed a spike to trim the lead to 22-21. The Eagles then tied things up at 23 and had game point twice, at 25-24 and 26-25. Howland nearly tied it at 26, but the final hit of the game landed just outside of the line.
"We've played four good teams, but we haven't had a match like that," said Porter, in his first year as Hubbard's coach after taking over for longtime Eagles mentor Chuck Montgomery. "The hustle is maybe the little bit of difference in why we won. We were down, 9-1, and I told my JV coach, 'Win or lose this game, we're going to learn what we're about.' And they showed me they really want it."