GLADSTONE - There were plenty of opportunities for Gladstone and Stephenson to win a Great Northern Conference volleyball match Thursday night.
Stephenson made better use of its chances in the end, however, handing the Braves a 3-2 (24-26, 25-17, 25-22, 12-25, 15-13) loss.
"I thought we didn't play to our full potential," said Braves' coach Liz Gendron. "Too many missed opportunities kept them in the games and gave them the confidence to fight."
Stephenson snapped a 13-13 tie in the deciding set by getting a much-needed sideout. The Braves were then unable to return over the net moments later, enabling the Eagles to escape with the victory.
"The girls just fought for the ball," said Stephenson coach Sara Johnson. "Our motto tonight was 'it doesn't matter if you get knocked down, but it matters if you get back up.' I think this win was important for us. We feel we have some potential on this team and will build off this intensity and excitement."
In the finale, Gladstone gained its last lead (10-9) on a two-hit error by the Eagles.
Stephenson - L Johnson (20 kills), Duprey (eight kills), Rasner (14 assists), Starynski (10 assists), Kelsey Johnson (20 digs), Wangerin (11 digs).
Gladstone - Beaudry (20 kills, one block, two assists, 17 digs); Demeuse (16 kills, one block, three aces, four assists, 11 digs); Hongisto (nine kills, eight blocks, two aces, two assists, 11 digs); Pardonnet (three kills, one block, three digs); Belonga (one kill, four aces, three assists, five digs); Fournier (one assist, five digs); Milam (eight digs).
But the Braves then committed a serving error and a block by senior middle hitter Lexi Johnson put Stephenson ahead to stay.
"I thought their middle hitter played very well," said Gendron. "She's a strong contender at the net."
The Braves pulled even at 12 on a kill by senior setter Callie Jensen and at 13 on a serving error, but were unable to regain the lead in their league opener.
Gladstone, behind a five-point service run by senior Summer Demeuse, gained an insurmountable 21-11 advantage in the fourth set.
The Braves then finished that set with a 4-1 run, securing the decision on a kill by junior Katie Belonga.
"Our best set was the fourth," said Gendron. "We hit well and served strong. We need to set the tempo and control the match. We also need to be more focused and follow the game plan."
Senior middle hitter Jessica Beaudry led the Braves with 20 kills, a block, two assists and 17 digs. Demeuse added 16 kills, a block, three aces, four assists and 11 digs. Junior Lexi Hongisto finished with nine kills, eight blocks, two aces, two assists and 12 digs.
"No. 13 (Beaudry) put the ball where she wanted in the first two games," said coach Johnson. "Then, we adjusted our blocking and were able to slow her down a little. Also, their quick set hurt us a little at times."
Lexi Johnson also finished with 20 kills and senior middle hitter Ally Duprey had eight. Senior Lexi Rasner collected 14 assists and junior Amelia Starynski added 10 in Stephenson's 6-2 offense.
"Lexi (Johnson) was our leader with her play and communication on the floor," said coach Johnson.
Stephenson's defensive leaders were sophomore libero Kelsey Johnson with 20 digs and senior outside hitter Tiffany Wangerin at 11.
The Eagles, who also won the jayvee match (25-10, 24-26, 15-12), visit Escanaba Thursday. Gladstone hosts Norway Thursday.