On a day where setter Jade Gray had the best performance of her collegiate career, it was only fitting that the match ended with a kill from her part to give the Jaspers a four set victory at home against the Niagara Purple Eagles—24-26, 25-22, 25-11, 25-17.
“I think I definitely had a big role that I had to fill the shoes of,” Gray said about having to start in place of Teodora Peric. “I’m not used to starting so it was definitely a little nerve-wracking, but I was like, ‘my team is counting on me and I’ve got to go in ready to go’.”
Gray seamlessly filled in for Peric with an outstanding match, falling one kill shy of a triple-double with nine kills, 43 assists and 12 digs.
From the first set it was apparent Gray was up for the challenge of replacing Peric when she notched a pair of kills that gave Manhattan the lead at 5-4 and then at 6-5.
The rest of the first set was closely contested with no team leading by more than four. With the score tied at 21, the Purple Eagles went on a 3-1 spurt that gave them set point at 24-22.
The Jaspers fought off set point and tied it at 24, forcing Niagara to call a timeout. After the timeout, the Purple Eagles recuperated and scored the next two points to win the first set 26-24.
“I think we had to play a little more defense in the first set,” Manhattan head coach Mark Jones said about what went wrong with the team in the first set. “I think that’s what was really important.”
The second set was as competitive as the first, with the biggest lead going to Manhattan at 18-14. Just like the first set, the second set was tied at 21.
Manhattan called a timeout and bounced back with four of the next five points, three of which were assisted by the player of the game Gray, to win the set 25-22 and tie the match at one.
The third set seemed to have belonged to another game, as Manhattan dominated from start to finish. Manhattan got off to a quick 9-0 lead and never looked back.
The Jaspers held the Purple Eagles to just 11 points, winning the third set 25-11. Of the 25 points, 18 came via kills and the team hit an incredible .567.
The fourth set went back to the pace the first two sets were played at, with neither team pulling away from each other from the start.
Manhattan led at 9-8 and then the Jaspers built a hefty lead after a Marissa Behrens kill ignited an 11-4 run which gave Manhattan its biggest lead of the set at 20-12.
However, Niagara came storming back with five consecutive points to cut the lead to 20-17.
Unfortunately for the Purple Eagles, those would be the final points they scored on the day. The Jaspers closed out the game with five straight points of their own, capped off with a kill from Gray, to win the fourth set 25-17 and win the match 3-1.
Manhattan rebounded after losing the first set to win three sets in a row, something Gray believes was due to the team’s chemistry, energy and ability to gain a flow.
“Once we get into a flow, we just keep going and that helped a lot,” Gray said.
Malia McGuinness registered a double-double leading the Jaspers in kills and digs with 17 and 23 respectively, but it was Gray who had the game of her life, filling up the box score with two service aces, career highs in assists and kills, and falling one dig short of her career high 13 digs.
“I think Jade had a great game,” Jones said regarding Gray’s performance. “I think she really focused on what she needed to do. She set a really good offense and hitters responded to that.”
The win marks Manhattan’s third consecutive victory after going through a stretch where the team lost four in a row.
“I think we’ve been working on blocking, which is really crucial for us right now,” Jones said about what he believes is part of the reason why the team has turned it around “That [blocking] has to be a continued theme and not to give up so many points in a row has to be another theme.”