By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Lafayette senior middle Khiani Jackson had been dominating in the first three sets against Mid-Buchanan Tuesday.
She had 12 kills through the first three sets. But, after the Dragons got off to a 9-1 start in the fourth set, something didn't feel right. Jackson had two kills in the fourth, but she was otherwise a non-factor as Mid-Buchanan won the fourth set 25-15.
Jackson made the decision to take herself out before the fifth set and send in junior middle Bailey Flanagan in her place. The maturity paid off.
Flanagan knocked down three kills in the fifth set, Lafayette ended the fifth on a 6-2 run, won the frame 15-11 and won the match 3-2 (25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 15-25, 15-11) over Mid-Buchanan on Tuesday night at Lafayette High School.
Irish head coach Laura Rehmeier gave Jackson a ton of credit for making a mature decision to help her team when the chips were down.
"(Khiani) felt herself off just a little bit and she made that mature decision to put the team before herself," Rehmeier said. "She told me to pull her out and Bailey had an awesome, awesome JV night. So, it was kind of a no-brainer at that point."
Jackson was of course disappointed that she couldn't help her team pull through in the fifth set, but was more so proud of her teammate Flanagan for stepping up in such a key moment.
"She's like my little minion," Jackson said of Flanagan. "I've been playing with her for three years. She's done really good, and I'm proud of her. It sucks that I was off, but I'm glad she was able to come in and handle it.
"It's great we pulled through with the win. I wish we would've done it in three, but every game is different than the next. So, still pulled through. That's all that matters."
Jackson still finished with a match-high 14 kills. She also had four blocks and an ace serve.
Sophomore middle/outside hitter Remi Vandever had seven kills and three blocks. Senior outside hitter Audrey Willoughby tallied five kills and an ace.
It wasn't always pretty, but Lafayette is off to a 3-0 start after winning only two matches in all of 2020.
"I was not expecting a five-set night," Rehmeier said. "But, the fact that they battled back over and over just says a lot about us. I mean, starting out 3-0 is definitely what we want for this season."
Mid-Buchanan (3-4) battled hard as well. Sophomore outside hitter Liv Moeckli knocked down eight kills. Junior middle Mallie Lieffring had seven kills, three aces and a block. Junior outside hitter Hailey Clark had some timely hits, totaling six kills and two blocks.
A lot of positives, but the Dragons have now lost four of their last five.
"I couldn't be prouder of our effort," Mid-Buchanan coach Ron Underwood said. "I mean, that's hard. That was our first five-game match (of the season). I know there'll be more, but that was the first one. That was something new for the players, too."
Mid-Buchanan is home to South Harrison Thursday, and freshman setter Lexi Ferguson will make her return after being out due to COVID-19 protocol.
It's been an up-and-down start, but Underwood is still optimistic about what he has in 2021.
"You know, we're pretty balanced with what we got," he said. "Nobody can key on one person. I'm excited about what's left. It's frustrating tonight right now at the end of that after all of that time, but that's how it goes. You have to finish."
Lafayette meanwhile stays home to face St. Joseph Central - a team that beat the Irish 15-8 and 15-3 in the city jamboree on Aug. 24.
"We're definitely going to have to play hard and play together," Jackson said. "We get in our heads a lot, and we can't do that (Wednesday), because they will use that against us."
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