It was an odd feeling.
For most of the season, the end of set three has simply meant the night is halfway through.
That wasn’t the case on Tuesday. Not that Spring Lake Park was complaining.
In a fall of grueling match after grueling match, the host Panthers enjoyed a rare rout on Tuesday, pounding Irondale in straight sets.
“We played well,” Spring Lake Park head coach Joy Johnston said. “We’re really working on staying focused and yet having high energy. Sometimes we really stay focused and then we look f
latter than flat. So we’re definitely working on high energy and talking, a little bit better flow on the court.”
The Panthers lost their libero early in the season to injury, yet still employ a handful of players from a year ago.
“We have five returners from last year and three of them are always on the court,” Johnston said. “So that helps. But then you’re adding in new people, so we’re still trying to get used to each other. We’re still working with lineups.”
Spring Lake Park improved its record to 5-6, with only one loss this season coming by sweep, in best-of-three tournament play.
Three of the team’s first six matches of the season went the distance, all going against the Panthers.
However, Spring Lake Park hopes that experience will pay dividends in bigger matches yet to come.
“After our last one in Elk River when we didn’t win, I just said to myself, ‘I’m sick of five-setters.’ But you know, it’s great battles against good teams,” Johnston said. “If we’re at least hanging in there – we’ve had opportunities to win all of them. So that’s good and bad. You kind of take the good side of it mostly.
“We train really hard in here. We do workouts 45 minutes before every practice and we push really hard so when we’re in those five-setters our endurance is still there to play hard.”
Among the Panthers’ top contributors this season has been sophomore setter Lauren Woodford, who eclipsed the 1,000 set assist mark.
Woodford began playing varsity as one of three setters as an eighth-grader, then split time a year ago.
Now, she’s the sole setter orchestrating the offense.
“This year she has just taken over the whole load,” Johnston said. “She’s young, but she’s played at really big levels, played in some really big matches. She’s got the experience, now it’s just running it here. She’s a huge part of keeping the offense going.”