By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Cancer, the most wicked and relentless disease, requires a laser-focus, ever-vigilant fight to conquer. Bedford North Lawrence, hosting its first Block Out Cancer fundraiser, displayed that kind of heart on the court. But so to did the ‘other’ opponent on this night.
Madison, with equal resolve and a final surge to fight off two match points, squeezed out a thrilling five-set triumph over the Stars on Monday night. The Cubs (20-7) won the final three points of the marathon match to record a 19-25, 25-23, 25-21, 18-25, 17-15 victory.
The real winner was Lawrence County Cancer Patient Services. The Stars raised over $1,000 for the local organization, the initial step on the long road to overcome the ailment that strikes almost every family. Each member of the BNL program honored a “special guest” in the audience with flowers, and the event included a pregame moment of silence to remember those whose battle ended before a cure could be found. That fight continues.
“The theme of the night was ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,’” BNL coach Whitney Carroll said, referencing the famous speech by the late Jimmy Valvano. “That’s something we try to instill all year. They really embodied that.”
JImmy V would have appreciated the moxie in both teams. Madison could have surrendered after dropping the first set and falling behind 21-17 in the second. BNL (7-18) could have folded down 17-10 in the fourth. The Cubs could have succumbed during either match point in the fifth.
“That’s one of the things that’s great about these kids, they don’t give up,” Madison coach Camille Crim said. “Sometimes it works in our factor, sometime it doesn’t. Tonight we got lucky.”
The Stars, sporting the customary pink shirts for the occasion, won the first set with serving power, and owned a 23-21 lead in the second after Camryn Anderson’s kill. But Madison’s Kallie Eder brought her team back with two kills during the four-point surge that changed momentum.
Madison blasted to a 9-3 lead en route to winning the third set, and scored the first six points of the fourth. BNL’s demise seemed imminent. But that was before Trinidy Bailey took the service line and hammered out 13 consecutive points to force a deciding set.
“We had some hard conversations,” Carroll said. “It was their moment, they either rise above it and be a champion, or roll over. They showed what type of team they wanted to be.”
The fifth set, a race to 15 points, was tight. At 12-12, Sammie Gratzer cracked a kill, and Kendlyn Alvey made a terrific diving save on the back row to keep a point alive, with BNL winning it for a 14-13 advantage. Eder erased that with a kill. After a Madison error gave the Stars their second chance, Eder tipped home a point. Two free balls off serves finally made the difference, with Lilly Canida cranking down the match-point kill.
“In these games, those little things matter,” Carroll said. “They played well, they played with heart. There was major growth out there.”
“We had a slow start with communication,” Crim said. “Our girls finally brought the togetherness. Tonight was a struggle mentally, and they finally overcame a big road block. BNL was a great competitor. It makes us better as a team.”
Anderson paced the Stars with 27 kills and 22 digs, Gratzer totaled 17 kills, 21 digs and 6 aces. Isabelle Harding had 7 kills, Alvey finished with 24 digs, and Bailey had 55 assists.
Those are solid numbers, but they pale in comparison to the number of friends and family members that battle the disease on the daily basis. That thought was never far from anyone’s mind. Those ‘special guests’ motivated BNL to greater heights.
“It means playing my all for them,” Alvey said. “They support me in everything I do, come to the games all the time, they tell me that God’s over me, and it has helped me play the game that I love.”
“All these kids have that in their families,” Carroll said. “We took that to heart. There was a lot of emotion with it.”
BNL will visit Seymour on Tuesday, then honor the upperclassmen on Senior Night against Class A power Loogootee on Thursday.