Gina Bandoni couldn't catch her breath.
After the two-hour marathon was finally over, the Golden Valley junior turned to a teammate and said, "I think I'm going to have a heart attack."
Bandoni's ticker wasn't the only one to skip a beat as the Golden Valley volleyball team rallied back from two games down to defeat Atwater 22-25, 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-13 in a thriller Tuesday night.
"I've been questioning this team's mental toughness," said GV coach Matt Thissen, whose team remained unbeaten in the Central California Conference at 4-0.
"I've been challenging them for about a month now. I've been asking them if they had what it takes to come back from a big deficit."
It appears he got his answer.
Golden Valley didn't make it easy. Thissen's girls really didn't even show up in the first two games.
It was Atwater (2-1 CCC, 6-1 overall) that came out and dominated.
Players like Jaclyn Frank (13 kills), Nicole Heller (12 kills) and Kahea Smith (11 kills) had little trouble staking Atwater to a big lead.
Meanwhile, GV players looked confused as the mistakes piled up.
After dropping the second game 25-15, Thissen escorted his team out of the gym for a private conversation.
"It was terrible," GV freshman Reina Sykes said. "He was mad and he wanted us to get pumped up."
GV came alive and started taking control at the net.
Katelyn Bennett racked up six blocks to go along with 13 kills, while Sykes played beyond her years with 7 kills, 5 blocks and 3 aces.
Two of Sykes' blocks came on back-to-back plays that helped GV erase a 19-13 deficit in the fourth game to force a fifth game.
Atwater, which struggled after middle blocker Cassie Fensin injured her ankle in the third game, jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the fifth game, but again failed to close out GV.
"I just didn't see the heart that I've seen while we're working hard in practice," Atwater coach Toni Muratore said.
Thissen knows this won't be the only gut-check in a conference that also includes Buhach Colony.
"I'd be very surprised if anybody goes 12-0 in this league," Thissen said. "If they do, they've earned it and I bet they got some breaks along the way."
Central California Conference
GOLDEN VALLEY 3, ATWATER 2
22-25, 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-13
At Golden Valley
ATWATER -- Kills: Jaclyn Frank 13, Nicole Heller 12, Kahea Smith 11; Blocks: Heller 6, Cassie Fensin 6; Assists: Marissa Guardado 38; Digs: Ali Copeland 23; Aces: Guardado 3, Fensin 3.
GOLDEN VALLEY -- Kills: Katelyn Bennett 13, Celeste Castillo 10; Blocks: Bennett 6; Reina Sykes 5; Assists: Ali Hague 32; Digs: Kaitlin Davidson 17, Krista Copus 16; Aces: Hague 3, Sykes 3.
Records: Atwater 2-1 CCC; 6-1 overall; GV 4-0; 8-1.
JV -- GV 2-0; Frosh -- GV 2-0.