After winning its seventh straight SWC championship, Joel Barlow's run at the top looked to be in doubt. All but one starting player graduated after all.
Fast forward to November 9, 2019, and the Falcons remain at the top.
Not without an incredible battle presented by Masuk. The third-seeded Panthers, in their first SWC title game appearance since 2004, overcame a two games to none deficit to force a decisive fifth game, ultimately falling to the top-seeded Falcons in the match, at neutral site Bunnell. The game scores were 25-20, 25-23, 21-25, 24-26, 15-5.
Barlow Coach Carol Asplund noted that although so many players — all but returning starter Kayleigh Emanuelson — played sparingly if at all a year ago, the Falcon team members gained experience from past success of the program.
"They watched and they've been here before. They live it and breathe it," Asplund said.
Barlow's coach tipped her hat to the Panthers who split a pair of regular-season matches with her Falcons.
"Kudos to them. They fought and they're a great team," Asplund said.
In game four, the Falcons looked to be on the verge of closing things out, scoring eight of the first nine points and building a 14-3 lead. Down 22-11, the Panthers caught fire and finally tied the score at 24 apiece before a Barlow hit into the net gave the Panthers their first lead of the set. One point later, and it was suddenly anybody's game.
In the fifth set, the Falcons erased a 4-3 deficit to pull away. Kills by Isabel Llach and Emanuelson, who earned MVP honors, and timely aces by Katie Gjelaj helped Barlow build its lead. Llach's blast deflected out of bounds for the deciding point.
Llach compiled 25 kills and 11 digs; Emily Grob and Gjelaj both had a trio of Barlow's 12 aces. Grob had racked up 27 digs; Gjelaj registered 11 digs and four blocks; and Emily Wegener had 10 digs.
Masuk got 13 kills from Amanda Fagan, 11 kills from Josie Maguire and nine kills from Olivia Mehrer. Ana Castro-Rodriguez logged 38 assists.
"Going into it we knew this was our game to win and their game to lose. They had a lot at stake," Masuk Coach Carol Ortiz said.
Ortiz is proud of what her team has accomplished this fall.
"They did so many great things this season," she said. "I'm very proud of them and what they did."