LANCASTER, Ohio — Just another typical evening between the girls from Eastern and Waterford.
A pair of Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division rivals battled through 26 ties and 31 lead changes over the course of five games, and five points ultimately decided the final outcome Wednesday night as Waterford rallied back from a 2-1 match deficit and claimed a 21-25, 25-11, 23-25, 25-16, 15-10 victory in a Division IV, Region 15 volleyball semifinal at Lancaster High School in Fairfield County.
The sixth-seeded Lady Eagles (15-11) held early match leads of 1-0 and 2-1 through the first three games, then EHS found itself deadlocked at nine in Game 4. The Lady Wildcats (20-6) reeled off five of the next six points for a 15-10 edge, then tied the match at two following a 10-6 run — forcing an all-important race to 15 in the finale.
Eastern jumped out to a quick 3-0 edge, but WHS answered with three straight points of its own —forcing the first of four ties in Game 5. Waterford broke away from the final tie at 7-all with three consecutive points for a 10-7 edge, and the Lady Eagles never came closer than 11-10 the rest of the way.
The Lady Cats scored the final four points to win the match and, in doing so, secured a spot in Saturday’s regional championship against Berne Union. It will also be Waterford’s first trip to the regional final in volleyball since the turn of the millennium.
There were ups and downs for both squads, rather it be great plays or wasted opportunities, throughout the course of the evening. In the end, Lady Luck just sat a little bit closer to Waterford’s bench.
It was a disappointing end to a magnificent tournament run by the Lady Eagles, but third-year EHS coach Katie Williams was still upbeat following such a thrilling contest.
“There are no guarantees with tournament time, so you have to leave everything out on the floor. I really think our girls played their hearts out, but that doesn’t guarantee a win,” Williams said. “I don’t think that we should be ashamed of anything about tonight. We were within five points of beating a really good Waterford team, it went five games and it took their best effort to beat us.
“The girls should be walking out of here with their heads held high. We’ve had a great run, and most people didn’t think we could do what we’ve accomplished. I’m really proud of these girls for getting this program back to its postseason tradition.”
The match was a dogfight from the start, as both teams battled through 13 lead changes and a dozen ties in the first game alone. EHS reeled off five straight points to break away from the final tie at 16 for a 21-16 edge, then eventually held on for a four-point win and a 1-0 match lead.
WHS never trailed in Game 2 after breaking away from a 1-all tie with five consecutive points for a 6-1 cushion. The Lady Cats never looked back and cruised to a 14-point triumph in Game 2, which proved to be the largest lead of the match for either squad.
There were four ties and five lead changes in the pivotal third game, as Eastern pulled away from a 6-all tie with a small 13-10 run for its largest lead at 19-16. WHS rallied and closed the deficit down to 24-23, but Eastern broke serve and held on for the two-point decision and a 2-1 match edge.
Eastern held leads of 6-2 and 9-7 in Game 4, and also took its final lead of the night at 4-3 in the fifth game. Waterford also won both regular season contests by counts of 3-1 and 3-2.
It was the final volleyball match for seniors Brittney Leach, Holly Johnson, Kelsey Johnson and Emily Sinclair in the Green and Gold, but Williams was nothing but respectful of her upperclassmen following the match.
As she noted, the players that will be coming back are really going to have to step it up to replace this quartet.
“Some of these seniors have been with me for three years, but it will be sad to see all of them go. I’m also glad that they got to at least go out in a regional tournament match though because they have been the emotional backbone of this program this year,” Williams said. “These four girls have worked their butts off and would run through a brick wall for me, and that’s what senior leaders do. Our underclassmen will really have some big shoes to fill.”
Morgan Baer led the EHS service attack with nine points, followed by Morgain Little with six points. Kelsey Johnson and Katlyn Barber each contributed five points, while Leach and Elayna Bissell chipped in four points apiece.
Annalisa Boano rounded things out with one service point. Johnson also had a team-high three aces in the setback.
Boano led the net attack with 14 kills, followed by Mackenzie Brooks with eight kills and Johnson with six kills. Barber also had four kills to go along with a team-best 21 digs.
Boano added 19 digs and Bissell came up with a dozen digs defensively. Baer also dished out a team-high 29 assists.
Lydia Beardsley led the WHS service attack with 14 points, followed by Gabbi Tornes with 11 points and Tess Teters with 10 points. Dani Drayer was next with nine points for the victors.
Megan Ball and Jillian McCutcheon respectively contributed five and four points, while Alli Kern chipped in two service points for the victors.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.