There was still a sense of disbelief for Key West High volleyball coach Kim Butler on Friday morning. The night before, her Lady Conchs were in front 2-0 during the District 16-4A semifinals match against a Gulliver Prep squad Key West had defeated twice this season — losing only one game during the two matches to the Raiders in the regular season.
“We had them,” said Butler.
That’s when the Lady Conchs coach explained, “there were a couple of crucial calls that went against us.”
“In the third game they called Carly (Sweeney) for setter interference, but the girl was tipping the ball over and Carly blocked it,” said Butler.
Key West never recovered, committing four service errors in the fourth game, while Gulliver was starting to serve better to come from behind and shock the Lady Conchs 3-2 (9-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-13, 15-10).
“Maybe I could have done something different, it’s hard to look back and process everything that went on,” said Butler. “We should have closed them out in the third game and not let the refs change the game, but Gulliver took advantage.”
Key West — which won both meetings between the squads 3-1 and 2-0 this season — came out in complete control of the first set, winning by 16.
“The first game we were lighting it up,” said Butler. “Our serving was awesome, Mackenzie went on a great service run, they all served really well.”
In the second game, Key West had only one service error, which allowed the Conchs to fight back from an early deficit to go in front 2-0.
Things began to turn in the third game as defensive errors by the Conchs allowed the Raiders to take a sizable lead — which was aided by the call on Sweeney as well as the low ceiling in the Raiders’ gym — but Key West battled to make it only a three-point difference in the end.
“That was a crucial turn right there, but we shouldn’t have started out in such a defect in that third game I think that demoralized us a little bit,” said Butler. “The little mistakes turned into doubt and by the time it comes down to the fifth game it could go either way. Whoever had the momentum at that point.”
Neither team broke away in the fifth and final game, with Key West trailing 12-10, at which point Butler questioned another decision by the referees for replaying a point after no call was made on a supposed tipped ball by the Conchs.
“Neither line judges or the down ref made the call, but then Gulliver complained,” said Butler. “To call a replay is unheard of, either it was touched or not touched. They also missed other things like missing the libero hitting the ball inside the 10-foot line.”
That would be the final mark Butler put in the scorebook this season as the game swung from a one-point difference on the questionable tip call to a 13-10 Gulliver lead — needing just two more point to close out the match win.
“That really would have been a momentum change for us there,” said Butler. “Same thing happened in that third game when they made a crucial call that went against us that shouldn’t have gone against us.
“I’m not one to complain about the refs, but I will say they made a couple of really bad calls,” the coach continued. “But as I told the girls we can’t allow our play to be dictated by the refs. We just have to be able to go out and play. I’m always about that, but I will say a few times the refs were influenced by Gulliver. So that hurt, especially in the fifth game. We still had our chances, but we just let them back in.”
The coach also said there were several tears shed by her players on the long ride back home. Playing in their final match, seniors Mackenize Barrios had nine kills and 26 digs; Ryan Star Gage set up 22 assists while also colleting four kills; Morgan Zvolska picked up 15 digs; while Sweeney finished with four kills. Junior Lindsey Clausen had a team-high 14 kills and Conchs libero Emi Ichijo scooped up 21 digs.
“It was probably the toughest loss I’ve taken as a coach,” said Butler. “I was really hopeful we could have gone a bit further.”
In fact, the Conchs already had a hotel reserved to stay overnight and play in Friday’s District 16-4A championship. Instead, their season came to a much-too-sudden end, especially since it was already truncated.
“It was a heartbreaking loss, but I’m still proud of the way thy fought hard,” said Butler. “They kept at it, especially in that second game to prevail. They showed a lot of grit and determination. I just think we lost our focus and Gulliver was really playing well. They played their hearts out and never rolled over and died, we were still fighting until the bitter end. It was just one that was tough.
“I can take losses, but this was probably the No. 1,” Butler added. “I don’t know how this one slipped away, it just did. It will take time to figure it out.”