QUINCY -- The rarity of what took place in the first set Tuesday night left Sara Rathbun almost speechless.
"That was ... oh, I can't find the words," the junior setter said after the Quincy University women's volleyball team beat Rockhurst 25-23 in the first set of the Great Lakes Valley Conference match at Pepsi Arena. "That felt so good."
Now imagine what it would have been like had Quincy finished the upset.
No. 12 Rockhurst responded in its accustomed way, winning the final three sets for a 23-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-13 victory in Quincy's home opener. Rockhurst has beaten QU 22 straight times since the start of the 2005 season. QU has won only seven sets in that span.
Tuesday night was just the third time Quincy had won the first set. The others were in a five-set loss in 2014 and a four-set loss in 2011.
"It shows how far we've progressed as a program to take a set from them," Rathbun said. "To see that, after how we've done in previous years, was awesome."
It creates a wave of confidence not usually associated with a conference loss.
"Coming in as a freshman, I've heard we don't really win a lot of first sets," said freshman middle blocker Sarah Brown, who led Quincy with 17 kills and three blocks. "So when we did, I was really excited. We talk about goals, and that was one of our team goals, to win a first set."
The challenge is sustaining the confidence and momentum.
Quincy (5-6) is mired in a six-match losing streak. During that stretch, it has taken No. 19 Wheeling Jesuit and Indianapolis to five sets. Tuesday was the first time since the streak began that it won the first set.
"We're pretty often slow to make an impact on the game or to make the point, ‘Hey, we're here,'" QU coach Abby Moser said. "Today, we did that. Our game plan worked flawlessly. It didn't take a set or two sets to say, ‘Hey, this is what they're doing. Let's do this.'"
It helped getting a boost off the bench from senior outside hitter Stephanie Mizeur, who matched Brown with five kills apiece in the first set. Brown and Mizeur had consecutive kills to give Quincy a 24-23 lead, and a block by Brown finished the first set.
The momentum stopped there. Rockhurst scored four of the first five points of the second set and went on a five-point run in the middle of the set to take control. Quincy never fully responded.
"Resiliency is a big word for us," Moser said. "It comes in so many different ways. How are we resilient physically as athletes? But how do you respond mentality? That's the big thing. Bouncing back from these matches is going to be huge."
Finding a spark in the moment is what Quincy continues to seek.
"It takes somebody to step up and be the leader on the court, somebody you can all look to and be the go-to person who is very confident in themselves," said Rathbun, who had 36 assists and 15 digs. "We all have the ability to do that. We just need to come together more and just go for it. We have to have the tenacity to find a way."
The confidence of taking a set off a traditional nemesis may give Quincy the confidence to do that.
"It's about picking each other up when we're down," Brown said.