The Dodge City Red Demons volleyball team opened Western Athletic Conference play with a win Thursday night, defeating the Liberal Redskins 25-15, 20-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-13.

It was the team’s longest match of the season, their first dual of the season and their last home match until the team hosts a Tri on Sept. 26.

The match was back-and-forth the entire night, sometimes within sets later won handily by one team or the other. In set one, the Red Demons jumped out to a 5-2 lead and expanded it all the way to 9-3. The Redskins fought back though, narrowing the margin to as close as 12-11. The Red Demons eventually won set one 25-15.

In set two, Liberal and Dodge City exchanged the lead three times in the first six points before Liberal won three straight points after being tied 3-3 to go up 6-3. When the Demons made it 6-4, the Redskins again went on a run, this time an even longer one, winning five straight points to go up 11-5. They eventually won that set 25-20.

That kind of energy was something Red Demons head coach Amanda Fleener had to try to manage. Fleener said afterward she’d like to manage the team’s energy better.

“We started the match with a lot of energy and really focused and we were moving pretty well, and we just kind of rode the roller-coaster curve for five sets,” Fleener said. “So I would like to maybe do better.”

After falling in set two and the standard break between sets, the Red Demons pounced in set three, taking a quick 8-0 lead. The Red Demons never led by less than four points in set three Thursday night.

Fleener said she tried to encourage the girls during that break between set two and three.

“I told them to sing a new song in their head,” Fleener said. “I said ‘Whatever song has gotten you doubting your ability to do this,’ I said ‘Let’s blow that one out and find a new one.”

Fleener said managing that energy through all of that and the final two sets was the most challenging part.

“Keeping them climbing the ladder up, it’s been the most difficult part,” Fleener said. “And a lot of that’s due to our youth. Stretches of (the match) obviously were very good, stretches of it were frustrating.”

Still, Fleener said the team’s win Thursday night was a step in the right direction.

“The most gratifying thing was that we didn’t let the win slip away,” Fleener said. “We should have beat them from the get-go, and we knew that talentwise, and for (the Red Demons players) to hang on and win, that would have never happened last year.”

The Red Demons head to Liberal for a multi-team tournament on Saturday, then play a Dual and a Tournament in Ulysses before returning to action in Dodge City, Kansas on Sept. 26.