JACKSON, Ohio — After all, it was Halloween.
The Eastern volleyball team pulled off one heck of a trick and received an even bigger treat Saturday afternoon after rallying back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a shocking 17-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 15-5 victory over top-seeded Trimble in a Division IV district championship match at Jackson High School.
The sixth-seeded Lady Eagles (15-10) secured the program’s ninth Sweet 16 appearance in school history and, in doing so, also exorcised somewhat of a demon in the process.
Eastern hadn’t won a district championship in volleyball since the 2012 campaign, which ended up being the final season under now Trimble coach Howie Caldwell. Caldwell was responsible for — among many other accomplishments — each of the previous eight district titles in Eastern’s storied history.
The Lady Tomcats (18-7) had defeated EHS in both regular season contests and were within one game of securing the school’s first-ever district championship. And that was when Eastern found its former postseason spirit.
Trailing 8-3 in Game 3, the Lady Eagles countered with a 10-3 run to take 13-11 advantage. EHS led by as many as six points (22-16) before holding on for a three-point decision.
Trimble jumped out to a 3-0 edge in Game 4, but the Lady Eagles countered with five straight points and never trailed the rest of the match. The Green and Gold led by as many as a dozen points (24-12) en route to a 10-point victory.
There were two ties in the all-important race to 15 in Game 5, but Eastern broke away at 2-all with a 5-1 charge that forced Trimble to take a timeout trailing 7-3. EHS followed with 7-1 run for a 14-4 advantage, then both teams traded points to wrap up the thrilling five-game triumph.
Eastern — which won its only regional championship in 2011 — advances to the D-4 regional semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lancaster High School. EHS faces Waterford in the opening match, while Berne Union and Fisher Catholic are in the roll match later that night.
After trailing by as many as 11 points in Game 1 and battling through 10 ties and 11 lead changes in Game 2 just to come up short, EHS third-year coach Katie Williams noted that few in-game modifications made a big difference in the final outcome.
She was also quick to point out that her troops’ continued focus and resiliency made an even bigger difference.
“We were very flat early on and we just didn’t play with much confidence. It could have been nerves, but Trimble also came out on fire,” Williams said. “We made a few adjustments in the second and third games, and the girls could see what we asked them to do was working. We started playing with confidence, and great things happened from there.
“The girls could have quit down 2-0, but they didn’t. In fact, they worked harder — which is what a good team does when it is facing adversity. I’m ecstatic right now for the girls, mainly because they’ve learned that it takes a different kind of monster to win in the tournament.”
The victory allowed Williams to join Caldwell as the only coaches in Eastern volleyball history with a district championship. Williams was also a part of three district championships as a player from 2005-07 under Caldwell, who amassed a 17-3 all-time mark at EHS in the district tournament.
The Lady Eagles previously won district championships in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
When asked about beating her former coach for the first time, Williams was nothing but respectful in her response — even the part she personally enjoyed.
“You know, I really look up to him. I teach English and coach volleyball, which is what he did at Eastern when I was a student,” Williams said. “He’s been a good role model and a friend, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve joined a pretty good coach on that list at Eastern.
“At the same time, it does feel good to get this win at this level. This is my first win over my mentor. Most people don’t even get that first one, especially in the district tournament.”
Morgan Baer led the EHS service attack with 14 points, followed by Kelsey Johnson with 13 points and Annalisa Boano with 10 points and a team-best four aces.
Morgain Little and Katlyn Barber were next with eight points apiece, while Elayna Bissell chipped in five points to the winning cause.
Boano led the Green and Gold with 26 kills, followed by Makenzie Brooks with 20 kills and Barber with 19 kills. Johnson was next with 17 kills and Baer added four kills to go along with a team-high 34 assists.
Barber led the defense with 15 digs, while Boano and Johnson respectively added 14 and 10 digs.
Trimble — which shared the TVC Hocking crown with Waterford and Southern — received 18 service points from Taya Lackey, followed by Lauren Riley with 12 points and Morgan Murphy with 11 points. Nikki Kish chipped in three points, while Morgan Azbell and Alexa Shust each contributed one point.
Eastern has now avenged both Trimble and Federal Hocking in the postseason, a pair of squads that the Lady Eagles were swept by in the regular season. Waterford also won both regular season contests against EHS this fall.
The Lady Eagles are 2-7 all-time in the regional tournament, with the only two victories coming during the program’s state appearance in 2011.
Having a chance to improve on that mark is something that Williams, and her players, will be looking forward to on Wednesday night.
“Tonight, at least during those last four games, that was the best volleyball that we’ve played all season. It’s nice for everyone involved to be able to say that we are back to our tradition here at Eastern,” Williams said. “The girls are still hungry, especially after not even getting out of a sectionals last year and with the way our regular season went. We know we still have a lot to prove to people, but we also have another chance to do that.”
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.