It was the match the Mead volleyball team had prepared for all week.
The No. 3-ranked Panthers, playing well from back to front, topped the top-ranked Jackson Timberwolves 25-20, 29-27 in the 64-team Crossover Classic championship match Saturday at Ferris.
Mead (20-1) led start to finish in the first game, and the Panthers were cruising along in the second with a 24-20 lead – a point from securing the victory.
Jackson, the 2010 State 4A champ, fought back, staving off five match points before taking a 25-24 lead.
After a Mead timeout, the Panthers pulled even at 25-all on a kill from outside hitter Taylor Ellingsen. They regained the lead at 26-25 when middle blocker Hannah Zalopany crushed an overfeed.
But the Timberwolves, whose two other losses prior to the final came at a tournament last month in Las Vegas, squared the score at 26 when a Zalopany tip went out.
Zalopany, a middle hitter who was seemingly everywhere, put Mead ahead at 28-27 when she somehow swatted a tip behind her head. Then she sent a knuckleball-like serve that the Timberwolves couldn’t return.
Mead won the Crossover for the sixth time in the 17-year history of the tournament.
“We’ve been practicing so long for this tournament,” said Zalopany, who had a team-high nine kills. “To play Jackson was amazing. We’ve been wanting to play them all season. We’ve been practicing the last two weeks to finalize what we needed to do to beat them.”
Fighting through adversity put a smile on the face of Mead coach Judy Kight.
“Jackson is legitimately a great team,” Kight said, “but we found a way to dig it out.”
Several hands were involved for the Panthers. Outside hitter Dana Norris added six kills and the consistent passes from defensive specialists Morgan Douglass, Natalie Kassa and Sierra Cook got Mead’s offense rolling.
“Any one of them would be a fantastic libero for any team and I have three of them,” Kight said.
In the first game, Mead built a 16-11 lead. But Jackson clawed back, pulling even at 17. But a kill by Norris and an ace from Zalopany got Mead untracked. A tip by Zalopany followed by a Zalopany block provided the game’s final two points.
In the second game, Mead started quickly. The Panthers built a 13-7 lead.
Jackson whittled away before its late-game rally.
“I thought it was a good match,” Jackson coach Ashley Allen said. “We got a lot to learn from it. I thought our girls played well, Mead is a good team. What matters is state and that’s what we’re going to worry about.”
Emmy Allen led Jackson with nine kills.
“It was our best match overall and that was our best competition (Jackson) this season,” Zalopany said.
“Absolutely, this was our best match because they rose to the occasion,” Kight said. “We’ve played well before, but this is by far our best match when you consider we did it under pressure against a great team. We kept on, kept on, kept on. I’m proud of them for handling that pressure like champions.”