JACKSON, Ohio — A tradition since 2002.
The Eastern volleyball team is headed to its 12th consecutive district championship match after claiming a 25-18, 25-18, 25-20 victory over Paint Valley Thursday night in a Division IV district semifinal at Jackson High School.
The third-seeded Lady Eagles (21-3) never trailed by more than a point after the first game and were never down more than four points in the entire match, as the seventh-seeded Lady Bearcats (10-15) took their largest lead of the night at 10-6 in Game 1.
EHS rallied back to tie the opener at 15, then reeled off 10 of the next 13 points to secure an early 1-0 match lead. Eastern never trailed in Game 2 and overcame early deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 in the finale to wrap up the straight-game decision.
The Lady Eagles advance to Saturday’s championship match at Jackson High School, where they will face the Pike Eastern Lady Eagles (23-1) in the second of two district final matches to be held that day. Waterford and Portsmouth Notre Dame will play in the first district championship starting at 4 p.m.
It was the first district win for EHS coach Katie Hayman-Williams, who as a player at Eastern was part of district titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The first-year coach was glad to keep a tradition moving forward, but she also acknowledges that the players want to keep the season going as bad as she does.
“We’ve been putting a lot of focus on defense over the last few weeks of practice because defense is going to be key for getting us to that next level,” Hayman-Williams said. “Our kids, especially the seniors, have really stepped it up the past couple of weeks. They’re pretty self-driven when the tournament comes around.
“They’ve been here before and they know what to do, so now we just have to execute better and keep putting in the effort. They want to put in the extra work and keep improving, mainly because they want to keep playing and winning.”
There were eight ties and nine lead changes in the opening game, with four of those lead changes coming before PVHS jumped out to its nightly-best 10-6 advantage. Eastern rallied back to tie the game at 10, then both teams were again knotted at 11, 12, 14 and 15 before the Lady Eagles pulled away for a seven-point decision and a 1-0 match lead.
Paint Valley rallied back from an early 3-1 deficit to knot Game 2 up at three-all, but EHS countered with a 9-1 surge to secure its biggest lead of the entire match at 12-4. The Lady Bearcats managed to whittle that deficit down to five points on three separate occasions, but Eastern broke away from a 21-16 lead with a 4-2 spurt for a commanding 2-0 match advantage.
After the Lady Eagles rallied back from a pair of one-point deficits in Game 3, Paint Valley followed suit by overcoming a 4-2 deficit to knot the game at four-all. The guests were never closer the rest of the way.
Eastern took a permanent lead at 5-4 and extended that cushion out to as much as 17-10, and the Lady Bearcats could only as get as close as 22-20 down the stretch. EHS won the final three points to secure the 3-0 match triumph.
Katie Keller led the EHS net attack with 10 points, followed by Jordan Parker and Paige Cline with eight points apiece. Lindsay Wolfe was next with six points, while Erin Swatzel and Maddie Rigsby respectively added five and three points to the winning cause.
Parker led the Lady Eagles with six service aces, with Rigsby adding two aces and Swatzel chipping in one ace.
Parker led the net attack with 13 kills, followed by Swatzel with seven kills and a team-best two blocks. Rigsby and Keller each added three kills apiece, while Kelsey Johnson had one kill for the victors. Rigsby also had one block for Eastern.
Wolfe led the passing game with 22 assists, while Rigsby made a team-best 28 digs. Cline and Parker also chipped in 21 and 20 digs, respectively.
Serena Gale paced Paint Valley with six service points and Erin Riley added four points in the setback.
The Lady Eagles are now 20-3 in district tournament games since the 2002 postseason, which includes eight district championships in the previous 11 trips. Eastern and Pike Eastern will also be playing each other in the district finals for the sixth time during that span, with Reedsville Eastern holding a slim 3-2 edge in the previous contests.
Pike Eastern won the head-to-head matchups in 2008 and 2010, while the Lady Eagles from Meigs County came away victorious in the 2002, 2003 and 2007 district finals. Eastern also beat Pike Eastern in the 2011 regional final to secure the program’s first-ever trip to the state volleyball tournament.
“We’re excited to be back in a district final and I’m sure Pike Eastern is excited too. We’re talking about two programs that have been to state in the last two years, so both teams will be familiar with this territory,” Hayman-Williams said. “We need to focus on what we need to do, which is playing strong, fundamental defense where we don’t let a ball hit the floor.
“This has been one of our goals all year, to get back to regionals. It’s time for us to go and do what we have to do now.”
NOTES: Adena defeated Eastern in the Division IV district final during the 2004 campaign, the only other team besides Pike Eastern to keep the Lady Eagles out of regional play since the 2002 postseason. … Pike Eastern and Eastern were both eliminated in the semifinal rounds of their state appearances. Both also lost to the eventual state runner-up.