Clinton volleyball

Clinton’s Ashley Haugen (11) and Mallory Voss go up for a block, and Voss delivers it back to Davenport North in the River Queens’ 3-0 volleyball victory Tuesday night at Yourd Gymnasium. Paige Dehner (background) gets in position in case the ball gets past the front-row duo.

CLINTON — In order to crack the Mississippi Athletic Conference’s top tier, the Clinton volleyball team knows it must win games just like this.

Down seven in Game 3. Scratching their heads. Things not going their way.

But the River Queens responded and outlasted Davenport North to complete a 25-13, 25-17, 29-27 sweep in their home opener Tuesday night at Yourd Gymnasium.

“Everybody in the MAC is tough, so we’re going to have tight games,” said senior Sarah Massey, who led Clinton with nine kills and nine digs. “We’re going to have to gut it out point by point and get it done.”

Clinton has won its past five matches against North and seven of the past eight dating back to 2007.

In their latest triumph, the Queens (5-3, 1-0 MAC) cruised through the first two games, but North (2-4, 0-2) jumped to an early lead in the third. The Wildcats’ Tyler Howard, who had a team-high 13 kills, dropped a tip to give her team a 14-7 lead and force a Clinton timeout.

“Things weren’t falling our way,” Clinton coach Mark Massey said. “But we battled.”

The River Queens rallied with a 9-1 burst to take a 16-15 lead. The score swayed back and forth, featuring seven ties and four lead changes down the stretch.

Down 27-26, Clinton tied it on Devynn Paulsen’s spike that smacked just past the attack line. After a North attack attempt ricocheted out of play, Paulsen punctuated the comeback with a kill short of the Wildcat back row.

“We wanted to come out and make sure we did our best the first time at home,” said Paulsen, who had seven kills and seven digs.

Clinton lost key weapons Sarah Wenzel, Katie Sass and Paige Guidebeck from the team that went 11-17 last year and placed fourth in the MAC. The Queens will reload this season with a roster that includes 11 juniors.

So far, so good.

“Everyone has filled in great,” Sarah Massey said. “Our middles have improved a ton. Our setters are doing really good. Everybody’s doing good.”

Ashley Haugen totaled 17 assists, five kills and four blocks for Clinton. Courtney Camp had 12 assists and three service aces, Leisha Harris added four blocks, while libero Paige Dehner had eight digs to anchor a solid back row.

The Queens posted big leads early in Games 1 and 2.

Paulsen’s five kills helped Clinton stage a 16-2 run to take control in Game 1.

“I think we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do,” Mark Massey said, “and we did a good job of taking them out of their game.”

The Queens built a 19-11 edge in Game 2. The Wildcats whittled the deficit to six, but back-to-back Sarah Massey tips secured an eight-point win and 2-0 lead in the match.

But those two breezy victories didn’t have Clinton smiling afterward.

It was that gritty comeback in Game 3, which proved to opponents and themselves that when the going gets tough, so do the Queens.

“When you win a game like that, that gives you confidence,” Mark Massey said. “It tells you, ‘Hey, even though we’re down we can still come back and do this.’ We stepped on the accelerator and got a nice win.”

Clinton 25-25-29, Davenport North 13-17-27

Statistical leaders

Kills — North (Tyler Howard 13, Brieanna French 12); Clinton (Sarah Massey 9, Devynn Paulsen 7, Ashley Haugen 5).

Assists — North (Brittany Stack 27); Clinton (Haugen 17, Courtney Camp 12).

Digs — North (Renee Hilig 18, Howard 18); Clinton (Massey 9, Paige Dehner 8, Paulsen 7).

Aces — North (French 2, Howard 2, Emily Doll 2); Clinton (Camp 3).

Blocks — Clinton (Haugen 4, Leisha Harris 4, Mallory Voss 3, Massey 2).