JACKSON, Ohio — And here we go again.
The Eastern volleyball team captured the program’s eighth regional berth in school history Saturday following a 25-14, 25-23, 25-14 victory over Waterford in a Division IV district final at Jackson High School.
The top-seeded Lady Eagles (24-1) are headed to their second straight Sweet 16 after sweeping the Lady Wildcats (20-5) in the district final for a second consecutive postseason. EHS also won all three matches against Waterford this fall like last season — including the Lady Eagles’ first 3-0 triumph over WHS this year.
Eastern — which has now won 23 straight matches and 30 consecutive games — advances to the D-4 regional semifinals Wednesday at Lancaster High School, where the Lady Eagles will again face Shekinah Christian. The Lady Eagles and Shekinah Christian battled through five games last year before Eastern claimed a 3-2 match victory for its first-ever regional final appearance.
Following the game, EHS coach Howie Caldwell — who is now 18-2 alltime in district tournament play at Eastern — spoke about how proud he was of this group of girls for getting back to this point. He also noted that these Lady Eagles still have a lot of work to do in the upcoming week.
“We, as a staff, are extremely proud of the players. We took everybody’s best shot this year, and we lived up to the challenge all but once this season,” Caldwell said. “There were some games that we didn’t play as well as we thought we should have, but these girls just find a way to win.
“I told the girls after the match that the pressure is off because everyone is on the same level now. These upcoming games are fun, because we’ve been here before. We’re familiar with the competition and familiar with the facility. We know we have to bring our best, but so does everyone else. It’s going to be a fun week.”
The Lady Eagles never trailed by more than three points in the entire match, which included nine ties and a dozen lead changes through three games. Six of those ties and seven lead changes came in Game 2 alone, but both teams did hold leads in each of the three games played.
Both teams traded leads out to a two-all in the opener, but EHS used a 12-2 run to establish a double-digit lead at 14-4. WHS never came closer than seven points (15-8) the rest of Game 1, as the Lady Eagles claimed an 11-point win and a 1-0 match edge.
After trading leads out to two-all again in Game 2, Waterford established advantages of 7-4, 10-7 and 12-9 before EHS rallied to knot things up at 12-all. The Lady Eagles then took a 16-12 lead, but WHS responded with seven straight points for a 19-16 edge.
Eastern rallied to tie things at 19, but WHS gradually whittled its lead out to 23-21 before the Lady Eagles scored the final four points to take a commanding 2-0 match advantage.
Waterford’s final lead of the night came at 1-0 in the finale, and EHS responded with an 18-7 surge to establish a double-digit lead at 18-8. WHS never came closer than eight points (18-10) from there on out in Game 3, and the Lady Eagles eventually cruised to an 11-point decision for the sweep.
As a team, Eastern recorded totals of 47 points, 36 kills and 11 blocks in the triumph. Maddie Rigsby led the service attack with 20 points, followed by Ally Hendrix and Erin Swatzel with seven points apiece. Gabby Hendrix had six points, Kiki Osborne added five points and Jordan Parker rounded things out with two points.
Rigsby and Parker led the net attack with 12 kills apiece, followed by Osborne with eight kills. Swatzel and Katie Keller also had two kills each for the victors. Keller led EHS with four blocks, followed by Parker with three blocks and Rigsby with two blocks. Osborne and Ally Hendrix also had a block each.
Ally Hendrix led the passing game with 29 assists, while Rigsby led the defense with 21 digs. Gabby Hendrix had 16 digs and Parker added 14 digs. Lindsay Wolfe had three digs, Paige Cline had two digs and Cierra Turley added one dig to the victory.
Jayde Heiss led the Waterford service attack with nine points, while Brooke Drayer led the net attack with 13 kills and two blocks.
The regional tournament at Lancaster High School Wednesday is a duplicated rematch of last year’s tournament. Pike Eastern and Newark Catholic renew acquaintances in the first match at 6 p.m., followed by Shekinah Christian and Eastern in the night cap around 7:30 p.m. Both Pike Eastern and Eastern advanced to the regional finals last fall, with Eastern winning the regional championship.
“There’s only 16 teams playing right now, and we are one of those 16 teams,” Caldwell said. “Our kids know how to play the game at this level. This isn’t our first rodeo.”