BUHL — The rivalry between the Buhl Indians and the Gooding Senators on the volleyball court added another memorable chapter Tuesday, with the Indians outlasting Gooding in five sets to advance to the championship game of the 4A district tournament, (19-25), 25-20, (16-25), 25-22, 15-7.
The Senators came out fired up in the first set, building an early lead they never relinquished and catching Buhl flat-footed, setting the tone for what would become a back and forth match until the end.
“We weren’t awake at the beginning, just not playing like I knew we could,” said Indians setter McKenna Brinkman. “It was a nail-biter, I’m pretty sure we gave our coach a few extra gray hairs.”
Shaking off the cobwebs, Buhl rebounded in the second set, taking an early lead before Gooding battled back to tie it at 19-19. The Indians were able to hold off the Senators, taking the set 25-20.
Not to be outdone, Gooding exploded again in the third set, building a comfortable lead and playing stellar defense to shut down any momentum Buhl carried in from the second set, winning 25-16. Now just one game away from an upset, Buhl knew they had to step their game up.
“We know we’re the top two teams in the league, and whenever we play, it’s anyone’s game,” said Buhl head coach Denny Moretto. “You have to work for every point.”
Both teams opened the fourth set focused, with Gooding building an early lead. The teams would trade leads until the end, with Buhl finally pulling ahead and tying the match 2-2 with a 25-22 win. The Indians would carry that momentum into the final frame, closing out the match with a 15-7 win.
“Our defense was really working for us tonight, it really comes down for us to defense,” Moretto said. “We do have a couple of good hitters, but we have to have everyone down on the floor and scrapping for every ball.”
For Buhl, Kylie Crossland had three aces. McKenna Brinkman had 28 assists and recorded 18 digs, as did her sister, libero Madison Brinkman. Sage Eckert had 15 kills, Crossland had 14 kills and McKenna Lively had four blocks.
Buhl now heads into the district championship game Wednesday night. McKenna Brinkman said confidence is high, though there are things to work on.
“We are very excited, to say the least,” she said. “We do need to work on our communicating, sometimes we get a little quiet. But I think as long as we play together as a team, we just love each other so much and have great chemistry, as long as we play together as a team, we can do anything.”