Payton Evenstad/Bennett Wolff

Payton Evenstad/Bennett Wolff

Faribault setters Payton Evenstad, No. 4, and Bennett Wolff, pictured last season, helped the Falcons rally for a five-set win Thursday night against Mankato East. The pair combined for 39 kills and 50 assists. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

Trailing 18-9 in the fourth set and on the verge of a loss, the Faribault volleyball team received a spark from its two leaders — seniors Payton Evenstad and Bennett Wolff. The two combined for 39 kills and 50 assists, leading the Falcons to a 3-2 win over Mankato East Thursday night.

Normally one to keep things positive, Faribault head coach Joanna Lane could see her team slipping in that fourth set.

“I pulled my two setters and two of the captains aside and said, ‘I expect more from you. I want you to go out and you need to dominate the court,’” Lane said.

It seemed to grab everyone’s attention as the Falcons (2-1), who trailed 9-1 and 12-4 before that 18-9 deficit in the fourth set, rallied back to win 25-23 before finishing off the Cougars (1-2) 15-7 in the final set.

Wolff and Evenstad were right in the middle of the comeback as the two began to rack up kills. Both were a part of every offensive attack. When the two were connecting and setting each other up, the Cougars didn’t have much of an answer.

The Falcons took a 7-3 lead in the first set, eventually cruising to a 25-15 win. Again, the Falcons pulled ahead in set two. Yet, after leading 6-1, the Cougars clawed back to within a couple points then took a 24-22 lead. The Cougars won the second set 27-25, and carried that momentum into the third set where the Falcons held an early lead but watched it slip away.

Lane said the Cougars adjusted well and were able to be in better position to stop the Falcon outside hitters.

“(The Cougars) were picking up where we were hitting,” Lane said. “They got onto our offensive plays. The girls started to make the changes necessary and didn’t give up.”

The Falcons got back to finding gaps past Cougar defenders and hitting cross-court to the corners in the fourth set, which ultimately led them to the five-set win.

Lane added that none of the front players hit percentage was in the negative. Evenstad, Wolff, sophomore Addi Dietsch and junior Olivia Bauer each had a hit percentage above .200. Wolff led the way with a whopping .457.

“I don’t know in my program history if I’ve had an entire team stay positive like that,” Lane said. “Great job by both teams. It wasn’t an error game to score a point, it was either they got a kill or we got a kill.”

Wolff ended the night with 22 assists, 17 kills, 15 digs and six blocks while Evenstad led the team in assists (28), kills (22) and added 11 digs.

The Falcons tallied 105 digs as a team with senior Hanna Cunniff’s 27 leading the way. Bauer had 17 digs and nine kills while senior Payton Ross, who had a few rally saving digs in the fourth and fifth sets, finished with 14.

Lane said in the shortened season, she hopes the tempo carries over into each game.

“Our last game was a pretty slow-paced game,” Lane said of the Falcon’s 3-0 win over Albert Lea. “Now, this is setting the standard for the season. This is the pace we need to go constantly.”

Martin Schlegel is a freelance writer based in Dakota County.

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