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TRINITY - Mitchell cracked the state poll for the first time this season, but it still can't crack the hex Countryside volleyball holds over it.
So for the first time this year, the Mustangs lost as the Cougars controlled the pace and speed of the match in winning the key Class 6A, District 7 contest 25-22, 25-16, 23-25, 25-22 Tuesday night.
The Mustangs fell to 7-1 and into second place in the district, while Countryside improved to 11-1 overall and 5-0 in the district.
A week after beating River Ridge in a key conference matchup, Mitchell, ranked No. 8 in the latest state poll, hoped to expand its horizons by doing the same thing to Countryside and proving itself the team to beat in the district.
Instead, the Cougars emerged as the team the Mustangs can't beat.
For now, anyway.
"This was huge for us," said outside hitter Heather Zappacosta, who had 14 kills. "We've never beaten then before, and lost to them like two or three times last year and didn't even win a game. But now that we've taken one game. ..."
Mitchell could get three more shots at Countryside this season, including the playoffs, but will need better court coverage if the results are to change.
The Cougars were able to dink at will and run their offense off the Mitchell service game while the Mustangs could not do the same.
The Mustangs seemed to struggle early with the game's flow, scrambling even on harmless shots the Cougars just threw back over the net out of desperation.
"They did look like they were playing from behind all night," said Mitchell coach Keith Paulk, who added he thought he was outcoached by Countryside's Kaylyn Bayly, especially on defense.
Countryside used 7-1 and 7-2 runs in the first game to seize early control and scored seven straight to take a 16-11 lead in Game 2.
When Mitchell rallied to within 18-15, Countryside came back with another run of six points to take a 2-0 lead. Though Mitchell won the third game, it had come back from 22-20 and never held a lead of more than three points.
Countryside then jumped out to a 15-8 lead in the final game, and it was too much to overcome. The Mustangs, behind Kelli Wiedinger's serving, a key dink by setter Lea Weber and Zappacosta's kills, drew within 20-19, but Countryside sophomore Madison Truluck closed them out by winning a joust at the net, tipping over a point and pushing one into the corner with both hands for another.
The match ended with - what else -- a Cougar tip to an open spot on the court.
"The difference tonight was defense," Paulk said, pointing to a spiral notebook with his team's kill totals. "That's plenty of kills to win a match."