The No. 28 Northland Prep Spartans volleyball team nearly made a comeback after falling in a 2-0 hole Tuesday night at home, pushing Central Region rival No. 17 Valley Lutheran to five sets.

The 2A Conference Spartans fell behind two sets early, then rattled off two straight wins in the third and fourth stanzas. Northland Prep nearly made a comeback within the fifth set, but couldn't do enough as the Spartans fell 27-25, 25-13, 24-26, 24-26, 15-13.

Northland Prep dropped to 4-9 overall and 2-5 in the Central Region while Valley Lutheran improved to 7-5 and 4-3.

Maggie Auza had 12 kills and 47 digs in the loss, keeping her team afloat most of the match with diving returns and timely kills. Ana Nicol added 35 assists and 38 digs from her setter spot while Harper Swartzfager had 15 kills, 17 digs and two service aces in her strong match.

"First game we came out strong and just couldn't finish," Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole said. "Second game, I don't know what happened, we kinda just forgot about that. Third game, they had to find something down in them to fight through these games. We've been working to light a fire under them. They fought back."

Northland Prep kept the first set close throughout as neither team led by more than five points. The Spartans had the lead late, up 21-17 and later had two tries at set point up 24-22 and 24-23. Valley Lutheran took the set off a passing error and then a line violation by the Spartans.

The second stanza didn't go as well as the first for Northland Prep.

Leading the Spartans just 8-7, the Flames used a 10-2 run to take a commanding 18-9 lead over the host. Northland Prep really couldn't answer the run as the Flames' attack found a rhythm behind setter Rianna Haro-Orlando, who caught the defense off guard a few times with setter dumps.

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The Spartans needed to find a spark, and after trailing 21-16 near the end of the third, the team found a bit of what its head coach has been looking for this season.

Nicole found some room over the Valley Lutheran block to get a quick 4-0 run going for her team. The teams traded points until Northland Prep's Natalie Hansen terminated a ball from Nicole to set up set point. Valley Lutheran was called for a line violation to end the set and keep the Spartans afloat.

The fourth set followed a similar pattern as the third, except the Spartans held the advantage late with a 23-18 lead. The Spartans withstood two straight aces as part of a Valley Lutheran run to force a fifth set. 

Tied at 24-all in the fourth, Nicol got the Spartans into set point -- setting up an ace by Swartzfager to send the match into the fifth set.

Northland Prep dug itself in a hole in the fifth, falling behind 12-7 after allowing the Flames to find room on the attack.

The Spartans nearly rallied back, tying the fifth at 13-all. A pair of hitting errors ended the fifth and cut the Spartans' comeback efforts just short.

"We almost made it back but just couldn't quite finish," Ebersole said.

Northland Prep will be at No. 10 Scottsdale Prep (8-3, 5-1 Central) Thursday for a 6 p.m. match.

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Lance Hartzler can be reached at 556-2251 or at lhartzler@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @lance_hartz.


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