Fans packing the Dalton High School gymnasium tried rallying Dalton State College’s volleyball team Thursday to a comeback victory and a special night for the school’s new era of athletics.
It almost worked.
The Roadrunners lost the first two sets, won the third and had a big lead in the fourth before finally losing 25-19, 26-24, 21-25, 28-26 to Reinhardt University.
The first home match for any Dalton State sport since the school re-launched athletics this fall attracted around 450 fans, athletic director Derek Waugh said, and left scarce open seats inside the Dalton High bleachers. The volleyball team planned to play its home matches in the on-campus Bandy Gymnasium, but that building is still being renovated. Waugh previously said he doesn’t expect the work to be finished for the final volleyball home match of the year.
“There are tons of students,” Waugh said Thursday night. “We gave away 200 T-shirts to faculty, staff and students, so there were at least 200. So at least half are from the school. I’d say more than half, because we had to deny T-shirts to some.”
Dalton State also was denied a win, but it was an improvement over the previous time the two teams met. When the teams faced each other last month, the Eagles beat the Roadrunners in straight sets 25-20, 25-18, 25-18.
Ahead 19-11 in the fourth set, Dalton State (1-6) allowed Reinhardt (6-3) to score six straight points and 11 of the next 13 to take a 22-21 lead. The Roadrunners fought off match points at 24-22 and 24-23 with an unforced error and Kailey Vaughn’s block, but Katie Gilstrap’s block ended the match and gave Reinhardt the win.
“I don’t know if it was the crowd or what, but I’m leaving here happy,” Dalton State coach Bruna Langner said. “We have some things to work on, but we never gave up.”
Langner called Thursday’s performance the best of the season. Reinhardt coach Jenny Hayes also thinks there has been a big improvement in Dalton State, which was led by Alyne Bianchi’s 12 kills and four blocks and Savannah Nelson’s 10 kills and six blocks.
“Their block was very solid and (Bianchi) had a lot of great kills that we were really struggling to get our hands on,” Hayes said.
Reinhardt never trailed in the first set, using a 16-9 start to carry to a win. The second set was more back and forth, with seven lead changes. The Eagles clinched the set with one of Denise De Vine’s match-high 22 kills.
The Roadrunners grabbed a 7-6 lead in the third set and led the rest of the way, winning with one of Karly Newman’s 14 kills.
“I think we weren’t even awake in the beginning,” freshman libero Tori Pierce said, “but once we got rolling, we picked up the intensity.”
The fourth set included another Dalton State rally. After a 9-9 tie, the Roadrunners won 10 of the next 12 points with four blocks and only one unforced error from the Eagles.
“We are learning,” Nelson said. “I feel that was our first close match of the season. We played hard. You can definitely see it on the court.”
Dalton State’s next match is another home match. The Roadrunners face Truett-McConnell College again at Dalton High’s gym on Saturday starting at noon.