A year ago, in a tough battle like their game against River Valley on Tuesday, the Live Oak volleyball team may have folded under pressure. This year, they're rising to the occasion. Despite large leads in a couple games for the Lady Lions, River Valley pushed them to a tie-breaking fifth game before Live Oak claimed a 3-2 win (25-15, 15-25, 25-14, 15-25, 15-11).

A year ago, in a tough battle like their game against River Valley on Tuesday, the Live Oak volleyball team may have folded under pressure. This year, they're rising to the occasion.


Despite large leads in a couple games for the Lady Lions, River Valley pushed them to a tie-breaking fifth game before Live Oak claimed a 3-2 win (25-15, 15-25, 25-14, 15-25, 15-11).


"We're doing a lot better this year than last year in dealing with adversity," coach Karen Peters said. "Last year, as soon as we were even playing a team that was equal to us and they'd get ahead, we'd shut down. This year they're fighting back."


Their first big lead came early in the first game, when Paulina Heredia scored after a good rally and Judy Saefong had the first ace of the game, and River Valley struggled to keep their shots in bounds. Three consecutive out of bounds shots, followed by a score by Stephanie Taylor, had Live Oak up 7-1.


The Falcons recovered after a timeout and pulled to within one point a couple times, the last at 11-10. From there, Live Oak went on a 10-1 run highlighted by aces by Taylor and Jessica Mejia, and a score by Claudia Sandoval. It was one of several big runs the girls would have Tuesday night.


"We didn't necessarily always make big plays, but we always got the ball up and over the net," Peters said of the team's runs. "A lot of times, that's how you have to play it, make sure you're not the one to make the mistake."


The run allowed Live Oak to win easily, 25-15. But the next three games were all equally as lopsided, with the losing team scoring either 14 or 15 each time.


In game two, despite solid kills by Taylor, Bibi Alejo and Ashley Howell, it was Live Oak who struggled to keep the ball in bounds and not make the mistakes that scored points for their opponent.


The game was tied at 8-8 before River Valley pulled away.


"What it comes down to is the girls communicate, we win," Peters said. "When we don't win, it's usually because they're not communicating. It's all about talking and being aggressive."


The Lions began to hit their spots once again in the third game, and had an even stronger start than they did in the first. Sandoval served 11 straight points and had an ace, while Howell had a block and a kill, as the girls went up 17-2. River Valley eventually scored 14, but came nowhere close to threatening in the game.


The fourth game looked as if it would be the closest of the night as the teams played to a 12-12 tie midway through. The Falcons pulled away with a 13-3 run to force a deciding game five.


River Valley chose to stay on the same side that had seemed to be lucky for both teams, and started with a small 2-0 lead. Sandoval's ace gave Live Oak their first lead of game five at 4-3. Saefong faked a set and scored, followed by a score by Heredia and a score by Howell that made it 8-5. It looked like the Lions had almost wrapped it up when Mejia's one armed shot scored and she followed with an ace to make it 11-6.


River Valley pulled to within three, but an ace and kill by Taylor, plus a block by Alejo, made the difference for Live Oak.


Howell finished with six kills and six blocks, while fellow middle Alejo had six kills, an ace and two blocks. Sandoval had two aces, Heredia had three kills, and Saefong had a kill and an ace. Mejia led the team with five aces, and added two kills. Taylor led the team with seven kills, and chipped in three aces.


Their new attitude is showing in their record. Live Oak is now 6-3 overall, winning three straight games to start the year, and now with their win over the Falcons. Their three losses all came at the Hamilton Tournament.


"For me, seeing them last year to this year, them being able to dig in their heels and decide that they want to win the game, rather than just folding under pressure, was a huge change," Peters said.