KETTERING — For the first time since 2000, the Eaton Eagles volleyball team is district champion.
The team claimed the title after a three-set victory over Archbishop McNicholas in the district finals at Trent Arena in Kettering on Saturday, Oct. 31.
“It means a lot for those kids, because they work so hard,” an emotional Head coach Parker Fields said after the victory. “We had these expectations and to see them meet their goals and fulfill their expectations — it says a lot about them.”
Few three-set victories are as drama-filled as the one the Eagles grabbed on this night, as twice they came from seven or more points behind to claim a set.
In the first set, the Eagles were behind 15-9 and 21-14 but they rattled off 10 of the next 14 and a Julia Titus kill tied the set at 24.
Another Titus kill made it 25, and the teams traded points until Allison Collins gave the Eagles the lead at 27-26. McNicholas hit the ball long on the next point, giving the Eagles a first set victory with a 28-26 score.
Fields talked about his team’s composure down the stretch in close sets: “Honestly, the difference in the match was when it came to crunch time we worked harder and wanted it more.” That’s something he says comes from having eight seniors on the roster.
Titus picked up where she left off to start the second set, as she helped the Eagles’ strong presence at the net. The Eagles found themselves up 7-0 with three blocks in the first six points of the second set and the Eaton crowd was the loudest it had been all night.
Fields highlighted the run to start the second set after the match, saying the blocking spree propelled his team through the second.
Fields knew his team was special at the net, and now hopes others are taking notice. “I think our size has altered the way people play against us all year,” he said. “I think we are one of the best blocking teams in the league, and are starting to show we are one of the best in the state.”
The Eagles led the majority of the set, but McNicholas came back to tie it at 19 before once again a Collins kill gave the Eagles the lead for good as they went on to win the set, 25-20.
McNicholas’ players knew their season was on the line and started the third set on a roll, jumping out to a 5-1 lead, then a 6-10 lead and before long the lead reached 15-9.
The lead grew to 18-10.
Again and again the Eagles’ composure and mental toughness showed as they continued to chip into the lead.
It was 19-15 when Jackie McCafferty took over the serve and the Eagles went on a district-title-winning run. On the serve, the Eagles scored seven straight points to grab a 22-20 lead.
This time it was senior Meghan Puckett’s turn to take over the game as she scored kills on two of the final three points of the match, giving the Eagles the district championship.
Once again the team had found a way to stay composed and win a close set.
“I told them there were 32 teams left and everyone is good but you have to be the team that works the hardest to come out on top,” Fields said. “They just kept chipping and working hard and the balls started falling our way. It says a lot about our mental toughness and experience.”
“Julia started the match and Meghan finished it,” Fields said. But he noted, it was far from a two-person effort as the Eagles received contributions from all nine players who played in the game.
Puckett led the way with 13 kills, a dig, and five blocks or block assists. Titus was second in kills with nine but led with six blocks or block assists — she also pitched-in four digs and an assist.
Brandi Sittloh helped lead the way defensively, recording six digs and an ace, while McCafferty totaled seven digs and three aces.
Collins helped contribute all night, as she recorded four kills, all which seemed to come when the Eagles needed them most — three digs, an ace and two blocks or block assists.
Emma McKinney, the team’s setter, recorded 32 assists on the 78 points scored, while also recording a kill, four digs and two aces.
Brittany George showed off a wide range of skills — the senior had six kills, six digs and five block or block assists in a well-balanced game.
Fields has said numerous times he believes the depth of the roster set his team apart from other teams, and the depth is starting to pay off in the Eagles’ best tournament run since 2000.
“It feels good to reach one of our goals, but a district championship was just one of the benchmarks so there is still work left to do,” Fields said as his team prepares to take on Athens in the regional semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 5, at Vandalia Butler High School. “We are going to enjoy this but Monday were going back and getting ready for Athens.”
“I’m pretty excited because it hasn’t happened in 15 years,” McCafferty, senior and co-captain, said. “It was a good victory. We started off a little shaky and that was a little scary but we picked it up. I just kept telling myself that we are going to win this game. I just knew it was going to happen.”
For Titus, one of those eight seniors on the roster, winning this title meant “everything.”
“This means everything, going from eighth grade losing in the championship in the tournament, to winning league our senior year and always coming up too short in past years before our senior year,” Titus said. “Fifteen years is a little late, but we got it. It’s just really a proud moment for our program and each and every one of us. It’s a great feeling.”
McKinney, junior co-captain, was just 2 years old the last time Eaton won a district title.
“This is awesome,” McKinney said. “Never would I have imagined us winning districts and going to regionals as a freshman. We just really have the confidence to keep going. It’s really awesome to be in the Sweet 16.”
The crowd support helped feed the excitement and determination.”Feeding off of that is amazing,” McKinney added. “We have such good support from our community and they want to see us do well.”
The Eagles play the Plains Athens on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 6 p.m. in a regional semi-final match-up.
Reach Austin Schmidt at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @aschmidt_RH.