JACKSON, Ohio — Welcome back.
After a one year hiatus, the Eastern volleyball program will once again be competing for a regional berth following Thursday night’s 25-20, 25-11, 25-16 victory over second-seeded Manchester in a Division IV district semifinal contest at Jackson High School in the Apple City.
The sixth-seeded Lady Eagles (14-10) trailed four different times in the entire match, but the Green and Gold were never down by more than a single point on any of those occasions. EHS — which never trailed in Game 3 — ultimately broke away early in each contest before rolling to a trio of convincing victories.
The Lady Greyhounds — who were appearing in their first district semifinal match since 2000 — finished their remarkable campaign with a 19-5 overall mark.
Eastern — which is making its 13th district final appearance since the 2002 season — will be aiming for the program’s ninth regional appearance in school history. All that stands between the Lady Eagles is former coach Howie Caldwell and Trimble after the Lady Tomcats posted a 3-1 match decision over South Webster in the first semifinal.
Trimble won both regular season contests against Eastern, and the third contest will take place at approximately 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jackson High School — with a Sweet 16 appearance on the line.
It will be the second district final on the sidelines for third-year EHS coach Katie Williams, who was part of four district finals as a player under Caldwell at Eastern. As she is well aware, facing her mentor will be a tough challenge — but she also believes that her troops are up for the challenge.
“The TVC Hocking will be getting somebody out to regionals, which is always a great thing for the league,” Williams said. “This program plays for the postseason, so we are not just happy to be here — and Trimble won’t be either. You’re going to have two teams that our hungry to win a district title, so it will likely come down to who wants it most.
“I will say that the familiarity of opening the tournament with Federal Hocking was a benefit, and we managed to get past them despite losing both matches in the regular season. The same could very easily be said here with Trimble. We know what we are going up against and what to expect from them. We just have to be ready to play from the opening serve.”
Manchester managed early leads of 1-0, 6-5 and 10-9 in the opening game, but the Lady Eagles answered with five consecutive points (14-10) and ultimately never trailed again in Game 1. EHS twice led by as many as eight points, the last of which came at 24-16.
MHS reeled off four consecutive points to close the gap down to 24-20, but Eastern broke serve and claimed a 1-0 match lead with the five-point decision.
The Lady Greyhounds took their final lead of the night at 2-1 in Game 2, but Eastern answered with seven straight points to secure an 8-2 cushion. EHS reeled off 11 of the next 17 points to secure a 19-8 lead before cruising to the 14-point win and a 2-0 match lead.
Manchester forced ties at one-all and two-all, but Eastern scored five straight points en route to a 7-2 edge. MHS closed to within a single point at 10-9, but the Green and Gold closed the game with a 15-7 run to wrap up the straight-game decision.
Williams was most pleased with her kids’ performance, noting that they really seem to be firing on all cylinders right now.
“We’ve preached to the girls about consistency and playing with enthusiasm in the postseason, and the girls have really stepped up and responded well,” Williams said. “Everybody has been handling their roles really well, which makes the team play that much better overall. I think we are playing our best volleyball of the season right now, mainly because we are all working together on the same goal.”
Elayna Bissell led the EHS service attack with 15 points and three aces, followed by Katlyn Barber with 14 points and Kelsey Johnson with 10 points. Morgain Little was next with six points, while Morgan Baer and Brittney Leach respectively chipped in three and two points.
Barber led the net attack with nine kills, followed by Johnson with seven kills. Annalisa Boano and Makenzie Brooks both contributed six kills apiece to the winning cause as well.
Barber and Boano both had 13 digs, while Baer and Johnson each came away with seven digs. Baer also dished out a team-best 19 assists in the triumph.
Summer Wilbur led Manchester with six service points, followed by Katie Sandlin, Abby McFarland and McKayla Smith with five points apiece. Cassidy Spires also had one point in the setback.
The Lady Eagles have previously won district championships in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.