HECTOR - Hanging in the Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart gym is a banner that reads "refuse to lose."
However, it was Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop that refused to lose by handing BLHS its first conference loss of the season in a four-set victory (26-24, 25-14, 21-25, 25-18) on Thursday night.
"Coming into this match, we knew we were going to have to be on our toes and play one of our best matches of the season," said GFW coach Chris Wortz. "Knowing that BLHS was an excellent team, we were going to have to attack the ball."
The Thunderbirds (10-6, 4-1 Tomahawk Conference) did just that, picking out open holes on the opposing floor and winning the battle at the net to take the first set 26-24. Wortz said picking out those open spots was key to the victory.
"We talked about that, we know that they expect it and we just didn't get there," said BLHS coach Sue Alstrom. "It's like 'someone stand there,' but we didn't do it. It was still a good match, I think."
Communication breakdowns were an issue for the Mustangs (7-6, 5-1), who entered Thursday's match with a 15-1 record in sets against conference opponents.
In the second set, the Thunderbirds took advantage of the Mustangs' miscues to win 25-14 in a frame that was capped off by an 8-0 run. Senior Katelyn Seehafer led GFW with five kills in that set, finishing with 10 overall.
"We definitely had all the momentum and momentum carried us through the night," Seehafer said. "Our bench kept cheering, we all were playing together and we just worked together really well tonight. It clicked at the right time."
BLHS senior Maddie Ludowese outdid Seehafer's offensive output in the third set by smacking seven kills to lead the Mustangs' 25-21 win to avoid the sweep. Even though BLHS was able to force a fourth set, it was too close for comfort.
"We had such a big lead and they just came back," Alstrom said. "One thing that we have to overcome is to play to win and not to play to not lose, so to stay aggressive and take the swings."
The Mustangs led the third set 20-10 before the Thunderbirds battled back with a 10-3 stretch to creep to within three points at 23-20. An attack error and a service error by GFW were enough to give BLHS the third set.
GFW kept the pressure high in the fourth set, building on an early 15-11 lead that was followed by kills from five different players to win 25-18.
"We're more of a balanced team this season rather than setting one or two girls," Wortz said. "We have six girls on our court that can attack the ball and that just makes it easier for us to score points sometimes because it keeps their defense guessing and keeps their middle going back and forth not knowing where for sure to set that block up."
The offensive output was high in the match with five girls netting double digits in kills: Ludowese (14) and Hannah VanderVoort (11) for BLHS and Seehafer (10), Erin McDurmont (10) and Korine Schuette (11) for GFW. Morgan Wenninger nearly approached that mark, but fell short with nine kills on the night.
"The whole team is equal at hitting, so we all come home with almost even amounts of kills on the night," Seehafer said. "We just set who's hot and if they're getting it down, we'll keep setting them until they either block us or things start not going right."