Kaley Hitt was overcome with emotion, dropping to her knees immediately after the final point hit the ground.
The Merced sophomore wasn't the only one in the gym shocked as the Bears somehow erased a two-game deficit to upset Atwater 18-25, 18-25, 25-18, 25-20, 15-12 on Tuesday night at Merced High.
"I almost started crying," said Hitt, who finished with a team-high five blocks. "It just felt like a rush of energy through my entire body."
It wasn't shocking that Merced (2-1 Central California Conference) won. It was how it won.
The Falcons (1-2 CCC) were blowing the Bears out of the gym in the first two games. Merced had no answer for Hannah Van Warmderdam (32 kills), Abby Knapp (14 kills) or Brigette Berlier (11 kills).
"We had to make some changes and we had to make them quick," said Merced coach Marcia-Marie Rosson. "We moved Rheanne (Lewis) to the outside and changed our libero. It's the first time we've used that lineup. They gelled together quickly."
Peyton West was inserted at libero for Merced and the new lineup played with an energy level that wasn't there in the first two games.
The play in the Bears' back row improved dramatically in the final three games, helping set up Merced's offense with some good swings.
The Bears jumped out to a 19-12 lead in game three as momentum quickly shifted to the Merced bench.
Sam Roberts led the Bears with 15 kills and Vanesa Serna added 12 kills and 25 digs.
"There's always something between Atwater and Merced," Hitt said. "After the second game we just said let's give it our all. This is what we practice for, this is why we do all that running.
"We said let's just start over like it's a totally new game."
The Bears breezed in game three and took advantage of some sloppy play by Atwater in game four to force game five.
The final game went back and forth with Merced protecting a narrow lead late.
Van Warmderdam put away a shot to pull the Falcons within 13-12, but Merced's Roberts answered with a kill to extend the lead to 14-12.
Berlier, who was expected to miss 4 weeks after spraining an ankle last week, delivered a big kill to cut the lead to 14-13.
Hitt came up with the final kill that set off a wild celebration.
"We just decided enough is enough," Rosson said. "We do have enough heart to come back. This is what we want Bear volleyball to be."
Pitman 3, Buhach Colony 0
ATWATER Lindsey Vander Weide recorded 14 kills and two blocks as the Pride improved to 3-0 in the CCC.
Turlock 3, Golden Valley 1
TURLOCK Victoria Larson's 19 kills and three blocks paced the Bulldogs to a 14-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-19 victory. G'Bella Flores led GV (1-2 CCC) with 15 kills and five blocks.
The Cougars played without two starters, including Belen Castillo.
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.