Melinda Kerr's ailing knees have forced her into an operating room twice in the past three years. This fall, as a senior outside hitter for the Westlake High School volleyball team, Kerr has been able to overcome those problems, and in a close match Tuesday she faced her stiffest test at a critical time.

Kerr--and her twice-reconstructed knees--came through to help deliver match point as the visiting Wolverines defeated St. Mary's Ryken, 15-10, 8-15, 15-9, 15-13. Westlake improved to 6-2, while Ryken, in the midst of rebuilding after a record-breaking season last year, dropped to 1-6.

In the match's fourth game, Westlake led, 14-13, and served for the match. A St. Mary's Ryken kill attempt came straight at Kerr, about 10 feet from the net on the left side. Kerr dropped to her knees and dug the ball out, and senior teammate Jeni Cox pushed the ball over the net and past the Knights to complete the win.

Kerr is perhaps her team's most potent offensive player, but defense has been more difficult.

"At first I was gun-shy on defense," she said. "Now it's almost like a challenge, that I want to be able to do well on defense, and I'm not going to let my knees stop me." She first had knee surgery in April of her sophomore year. Then she had a recurrence six months later, forcing her off the Westlake team for the remainder of the season. Since then, however, she has been injury-free.

"I'm on a roll," she laughed. Still, she admitted that 15 minutes after the game-winning dig, her kneecaps still smarted a bit.

St. Mary's Ryken Coach Tracey Loewe was immensely pleased with her team's performance, despite the final result. Last season the Knights were 18-3, the best record in school history, and won the Maryland Independent School tournament. But St. Mary's Ryken lost most of the players from that team to graduation.

"It's been a rebuilding year for us, and this is the best we have played this year," Loewe said. Junior outside hitter Leah Cullins led St. Mary's Ryken with 11 kills, while sophomore Katie Tyner contributed nine kills and 11 assists.

The Wolverines had routed the Knights 10 days earlier in a two-set match at the Bulldog Classic tournament on the Eastern Shore.

"We saw a different team than in the [Bulldog Classic]," Westlake junior Meredith Bell said of St. Mary's Ryken.

Kate Enfield, the Wolverines' first-year coach, was less pleased with her team's performance.

"They went in spurts," Enfield said. "We need to stay on a high the whole game."

CAPTION: Nicole Wiley of St. Mary's Ryken returns a serve during the first game of a hard-fought, four-game loss against Westlake on Tuesday afternoon.