Haleigh Washington doesn't always like being the wide-grinned teammate after every point - especially in the midst of a two-game skid.
But as she looked across the faces of the mostly young and inexperienced Doherty team, she knew she'd have to keep positive for her teammates if the Spartans (11-3 overall, 1-0 5A Colorado Spring Metro League) wanted to beat Rampart (9-5, 0-1) and its frenzied fan base Tuesday night.
And after weeks of sloppy practices and building pressure, Washington spiked four of her 31 kills in the fifth set to finally give some relief to Doherty, which held off a furious Rampart comeback to beat the host Rams 25-18, 17-25, 25-22, 14-25, 16-14.
Washington also had 2? of her 5? blocks in the final set. Gabby Simpson added a kill, three digs and an ace in the deciding set on a night where she had nine kills and 13 digs to help get the Spartans back on track after back-to-back losses to Cheyenne Mountain and Fossil Ridge.
"We've been scared and timid and we even showed a little of that tonight. We needed this because like a loss is one thing, but a three-game losing streak would feel like 'Oh no, the end of the world,'" Washington said in her typical animated fashion. "Luckily, we held on. I knew they'd come back in the final set because we started looking all scared again for a bit. But I knew we'd pull through if we just stayed up."
They just barely did. Doherty built a 14-7 lead in the fifth set before McKenna Thornlow's serving and Amanda Cushen's presence in front of the net helped Rampart stave off match point seven times to tie the game at 14-all. It was so momentum changing that the Rams seemed to on their way to an unprecedented comeback win before a Rampart serve unexpectedly faulted, and then Washington tipped the ball out of the reach of any Rams' player to close the game.
"Honestly that took an amazing team effort to get back into that set," said Cushen, who had a team-high 15 kills. "We think we matched them pretty good all night, but just some unforced errors did us in."
The Spartans know they'll have to get better if they want to defend their title. Tuesday, they got good production from their two towering stars, but each player knows they'll need continued improvement from their younger players to make a run in the 5A postseason.
"We are relieved after this one, but we need to keep getting better," Simpson said. "We've been psyched out the last couple of games, and Rampart, with this crowd, did that to us again. We need to get past if we want to keep winning."
Next up, Rampart faces Palmer on Thursday before the Spartans come off their weeklong break to face the Terrors on Oct. 10.