VANDALIA — The Eaton Eagles volleyball team saw its season come to end on Thursday, Nov. 5, falling to Athens High School in a regional semi-final contest at Vandalia Butler High School.
The Eagles fell to Athens in four sets by scores of 25-18, 25-20, 19-25 and 25-22.
“I think you get to a point where you get to the end of the season and everyone is on a level playing field,” head coach Parker Fields said. “There are nights where it’s not your night and when things don’t run on all cylinders it’s not going to go right for you.”
Athens grabbed momentum quickly by scoring the first four points of the opening set, setting the tone for the reminder of the match. The Eagles battled back to grab a 7-6 lead in the opening set as the teams traded points until the Eagles led 10-9.
The 10-9 mark was the last lead the Eagles had in the first set, as Athens scored seven of the next nine points for a 16-12 lead. Athens went on to win the first set by a score of 25-18.
The second set started with Athens taking the first two points, and Eaton seemed to lack the energy the team had displayed for the last month.
“I just felt like we ran out of gas tonight,” Fields said afterward.
The Eagles trailed the entire set when a Brittany George kill cut the lead to 21-19 — and the Eagle crowd was the loudest it had been the entire match.
The Eagles, however, never truly had momentum in the match as errors by the team allowed Athens to regain a 23-19 lead before closing the set at 25-20.
“Every time we would go on a little run, we would miss a serve or make a mistake,” Fields said. “I just felt like we stood around a lot tonight. I don’t want to sit here and say our girls didn’t respect them because they did, but I think mentally they thought Athens was going to come out here and beat themselves.”
The team came alive in the third set, as its season was on the line, and the Eagles scored the first eight points. Seniors George, Julia Titus and Meghan Puckett started controlling the net and the Eagles were on a roll for the first time all night.
The lead reached 12-1 before Athens recovered and began chipping into it. The score was 24-14 and the Eagles were ready to move on to set four before Athens scored six straight points. Eaton closed the third set with a 25-19 victory.
The damage had been done, and Athens regained the momentum the Eagles took from the run early in the set.
“The wind got taken out our sails a lot tonight, “Fields noted. “I felt like Jackie (McCafferty) played really good defense but our block was off tonight and never seemed to get set up. I thought we became one dimensional on offense and never really controlled the flow of play.”
The fourth set started with the teams trading points until it was tied at six. Athens then rattled off five straight for an 11-6 lead.
With the season still on the line for the Eagles, the team managed to scrap back into the game, cutting the lead to 14-12.
George had a kill to cut the lead to one for the first time since the start of the set, and the Eagles were back in the set at 18-19. A mini-run by Athens increased the lead back to three at 21-18 but Eaton was playing for its season and wasn’t going down without a fight.
Senior Allison Collins scored a point for number 19, and then sophomore Ariel Richardson made it 20-22, Titus made it 21-22 and the Eagles tied the set on the next point at 22. That point was the last for the Eagles, who saw Athens score the next three to close out the match — and season — for the Eagles.
The Eagles finished a banner year with a 23-4 record, finished as SWBL Southwestern co-champions, sectional champions, district champions and regional qualifiers.
A loss in the regional semis is hurtful but according to Fields it does not define the season.
“They know it was a special run, and I told them afterwards this this was still a spectacular season and they should hold their heads up high and be proud of what they accomplished this year,” Fields said.”They’ve set a standard here at Eaton moving forward.”
Reach Austin Schmidt at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @aschmidt_RH.