The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School senior boys volleyball team came up just short of advancing to regionals after a five-set loss to St. Thomas Aquinas (STA) Nov. 5.

The two teams had a back-and-forth tilt in Haliburton for the Kawartha semi-finals, with a berth to the Central Ontario Secondary Schools Athletics Association (COSSA) competition on the line.

The underdog Haliburton Red Hawks could not overcome the higher-seeded STA, losings sets one, three and five in the best-of-five match by 25-15, 26-24 and 15-9.

The Red Hawks did prevail in the second and fourth sets to force a tiebreaker, winning 25-15 and 25-21.

Coach Brett Caputo said the team exceeded expectations.

“The expectations were we would compete, but I didn’t think at this point we would give them a run for their money,” Caputo said. “Going five was great and it was exciting for them.”

It was a close contest throughout. After the teams split the first two sets, the third came close, with the teams tying at 24. STA took the set 26-24 after the Red Hawks missed a serve and then sent a shot into the ceiling.

“It was tough,” captain Jacob Dobson said. “They played well, both teams played well.”

With the season on the line, the Red Hawks did not start the fourth set well, falling behind 8-2. But they would rally back to tie it 9-9. The teams played close from there, before the Hawks finished with a 6-1 run to send the match to tiebreaker.

“We all knew that it was within reach. We just all needed to play our best and everyone did,” Dobson said about the rally. “Everyone took the energy, the excitement of making it that far and knew we had this.”

But the Hawks could not control the lead in the last set. STA went ahead 5-2 and never looked back, ending the game with a 15-9 victory.

“First time playing a five-set match,” Caputo said. “It’s a long, tiresome type of game. You have to stay mentally focused in it. Our focus, I think, was up and down through the match.”

The school’s volleyball program is in its third year, with this being the first time it has fielded a senior team. Caputo said that meant the team was a lot younger than their competition, with more Grade 11s.

“Everything after this (year) should be building towards a better program,” Caputo said. “We did well and we look forward to seeing where things go in the future.”

“We definitely played to where we hoped we’d be at the end of the season,” Dobson said. “We fought quite hard against them and put up a good fight.”

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