Rugby gets revenge, rallies past Polk Middle in final set

Polk County Middle's Marilyn Castillo focuses on returning a Rugby shot during Wednesday's match.

The sequel proved just as entertaining as the original – but not with the ending that Polk County Middle wanted to see.

After closing its 2015 season at home with a conference championship win over Rugby, Polk Middle returned to its home court Wednesday for the first time since and found Rugby again playing the role of opponent. This time, though, the Raiders were the team celebrating at day’s end, rallying for a 15-25, 25-18, 25-23 win over the Wolverines in a Blue Ridge Middle School Conference showdown.

Led by head coach Kelly Risley, formerly the head coach at Polk County High School, Rugby (3-0) fought back from not only a one-set deficit, but a 7-3 disadvantage in the final set. Bolstered by serving that got stronger throughout the match, the Raiders eked out the final three points of the match and handed Polk Middle (2-1) its first loss of the season.

“Rugby is always well-coached and always has talent,” said Polk Middle head coach Matthew Russell. “We knew before we started that we would probably go three sets.

“It’s somewhat of a letdown in that during the first set, we looked so good and we had the momentum. But in the second set, we made too many mental mistakes. Our serve receive, especially in the third set, was just off. But credit to Rugby for finding the holes.”

Momentum bounced from side to side throughout the final set. Polk built the early 7-3 lead, only to see Rugby score five straight points to make it 8-7. Rugby pushed ahead 10-8, but Polk evened the score at 10-10 on a Kristen Hall ace. The Raiders surged ahead to an 18-14 edge, but back came Polk, evening the match at 18-18 thanks in part to back-to-back aces by Marilyn Castillo.

The Wolverines briefly pulled ahead at 23-22, but Rugby scored the final three points of the set to close out the match.

Polk Middle took command of the first set early on, turning a 7-6 lead into a 17-9 advantage, then extending the margin to 22-9 before closing out the set. Rugby, though, followed that same pattern in the second set, building a 16-6 lead. The Wolverines briefly rallied, closing to within six at 22-16, but the Raiders closed out the set to force the deciding third game.

“We told the girls after the game that we now know where we have to be,” Russell said. “Last season, we lost to Rugby in the third game of the season, and we circled that date on our calendar for the next team we played them. We beat them, then we played them in the conference championship and beat them again. Now we’re going to have to do that again.”

Polk Middle is at home again next Wednesday, hosting Apple Valley.