JACKSON, Ohio — How sweet it is.
The Eastern volleyball team is headed to its seventh Sweet 16 appearance in program history following a 25-19, 25-13, 26-24 victory over Waterford in a Division IV district final held Saturday at Jackson High School.
The top-seeded Lady Eagles (25-0) captured their seventh district championship in 10 postseasons and also posted their third straight three-game sweep of the third-seeded Lady ‘Cats (20-5) this season. EHS also won in straight games in both TVC Hocking matchups against WHS this fall.
EHS also tied a school record by winning its 25th match of the year, matching the mark set by the 25-1 club in 2006. Eastern, which has never won a regional tournament match in six previous attempts, is now one win away from setting the alltime school record.
EHS coach Howie Caldwell, who is now 16-2 alltime at Eastern in district play, has guided all seven Lady Eagle squads to the regional tournament over the last 10 years. Caldwell also led the Green and White to district crowns in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
Eastern’s lone regional game win came in the 2009 semifinals against Tuscarawas Central Catholic, a match the Green and White lost by a 3-1 count. Caldwell is hoping his squad can improve on their last trip to Lancaster.
“We have seven district championships, but we’ve only won one game up at the regional tournament,” Caldwell said. “Some years up there, we were intimidated and maybe even felt like we didn’t belong there. These kids, they belong there. They really do.”
Caldwell also noted Saturday that Waterford did not make things easy on his Lady Eagles.
“This was what volleyball is all about. You like playing in good games, and Waterford gave us a pretty good match. We told our girls that every point was going to be precious,” Caldwell said. “Coach Drayer and I both tell our teams that you want your last game to be your best. I don’t think Waterford has anything to hang its head about because they never quit.”
Both teams struggled to gain momentum in the opening game, as the combatants battled through eight ties and seven lead changes just to get to 18-all in Game 1. Eastern, however, closed the opener with a 7-1 surge, giving EHS a 1-0 match lead with a 25-19 decision.
Eastern kept that momentum going into Game 2, as the Lady Eagles broke away from a 6-all tie with a 16-4 run for a commanding 22-10 cushion. The Lady ‘Cats twice rallied back to within 10 points at 22-12 and 23-13, but Eastern scored the final two points for a two-games-to-none match advantage.
Both teams battled through nine ties out to a 12-all contest, but Eastern jumped out to multiple four-point leads en route to a 23-19 edge in Game 3. Waterford rallied with four straight points to knot things up at 23 and again at 24-all, but EHS scored the final two points to wrap up the straight-game decision.
Gabby Hendrix led the Lady Eagles with 11 service points, followed by Brenna Holter and Jamie Swatzel with nine points apiece. Ally Hendrix was next with eight points, while Baylee Collins and Brooke Johnson respectively added four points and one point to the winning cause.
Swatzel led the net attack with 13 kills, followed by Maddie Rigsby with 10 kills and Jordan Parker with eight kills. Holter added seven kills, Ally Hendrix contributed four kills and Erin Swatzel had two kills. Parker and Jamie Swatzel each had five blocks, while Rigsby and Erin Swatzel respectively added three blocks and two blocks.
Holter had a team-best 22 digs and Johnson added 20 digs, while Ally Hendrix led the passing game with 35 assists.
Brooke Drayer, Chelsea Paxton and Jayde Heiss all paced WHS with six service points. Drayer led the net attack with 10 kills, while Alyssa Miller had 19 assists in the setback.
The Lady Eagles will face Plain City Shekinah Christian in the regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lancaster High School. Shekinah Christian defeated Worthington Christian in straight games, 25-15, 25-16, 25-12, to advance to the regional tournament.
Beaver Eastern will face Newark Catholic in the second regional semifinal Thursday at Lancaster. The winners of those two matches will play at 2 p.m. Saturday in the regional final.
From here on out, Caldwell acknowledges that there will be nothing easy about the rest of the postseason.
“With 16 teams left in the state, we are going to have to play top of the line volleyball,” Caldwell said. “It’s a great challenge, but this team has answered every challenge put in front of them so far this season. We’ll definitely be ready to play, that’s for sure.”