A conference showdown with Burlington Central Thursday did not start the way Richmond-Burton's Ali Frantti would have liked, with four of her first-set hits and a serve finding the net.
The Penn State-bound star hitter adjusted quickly, however, and Richmond-Burton came roaring back for a 22-25, 25-12, 25-21 home-court victory to leave the Big Northern East race tied as both teams own 9-1 records.
"I felt like we held ourselves accountable," the Richmond-Burton star said. "Everyone contributed, so that really helped a lot."
Frantti helped the most. She finished the night with a whopping 31 kills, including 11 on her specialty -- the running, leaping back-row attack.
"I like to attack from the back row as much as I can to try to throw them off," she said. "I definitely was looking to do that and my teammates were looking for me on it."
Central (20-8, 9-1) had beaten Richmond-Burton (17-10, 9-1) twice, including once in conference, and routinely won the first set Thursday. However, a run started by Frantti at the serving line turned around Richmond-Burton's fortunes in Set 2 and made it possible for her offense to be a decisive factor. She served eight straight points for an 11-4 Richmond-Burton lead, including three aces and two points that she finished herself with kills.
Central never got closer than five in the second set after that. In the third set, Central fell behind again, 9-5, then pulled back within a point, but Frantti had five of her team's last 11 points on kills.
"She had 22 kills last time we played them so it wasn't like we were surprised by that (the back row attack)," Central coach Marv Leavitt said. "She was just effective with it and the rest of their team played well."
Central trailed 19-17 after Jane Collins' tip kill in the final set, but Frantti's kill and a setting error left Central down 21-18 and Richmond-Burton's Jessie Duncan made a key push-shot for a kill followed by a Central error. Addie Halverson had the final point on a kill for Richmond-Burton.
"Our serving just wasn't as strong as it normally is," Leavitt said. "Lauren (Wiltsie) just didn't have her game at serving. As a team, we weren't getting the aces we needed to.
"Against a team like that you need to get them out of their game."
Central had total command in the first set as Wiltsie had eight kills en route to 14 on the night, while Jenna Schudel had six kills. Maddy Barry made 26 assists and Allie O'Reilly 17 digs for Central.
Central has matches with Marengo and North Boone left while Richmond-Burton plays Genoa-Kingston and Marengo in the conference. Central is trying for its first conference title since 2009, while Richmond-Burton hopes to continue its dominance.
"What people don't realize is this was an all-new team this year," Richmond-Burton coach Kaycee Kaywood said. "I think our seniors and underclassmen just now are learning to blend in together well."
The two teams could meet again in sectional play if they make it that far.