The Delaware Christian volleyball team’s historic tournament run came to a sudden stop in the Division IV regional final Saturday afternoon in Lancaster.
The Eagles, who had showed finesse and poise to get this far, suddenly were a step slow as they fell to New Philadelphia Tuscarawas Central Catholic 25-8, 25-14, 25-20.
“We just weren’t prepared for their speed, even though we knew they were fast,” DCS coach Jackie Boggs said. “I thought we adjusted well … we were headed that way. It was good for us to see where we need to go from here. They’re an excellent team.”
Central Catholic (25-2) has more experience at this point in the tournament. The Saints now boast five trips to the state tournament — all since 2009 — including a trip last season.
The Saints have only lost five sets all season and none since Sept. 25. Their two losses came against D-I powers Cincinnati Ursuline Academy and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit.
The Eagles made school history this season, picking up their first district title in a tournament that they were the top seed for the first time, all while setting a school record for wins.
“It was important for (our seniors) to get us to this point because of their composure,” Boggs said. “They’ve just been relaxed … and very composed and that helped us get to the district finals again for the fifth time.”
DCS showed that composure in a regional semifinal victory over a Portsmouth Notre Dame team that was ranked 10th in the state in D-IV and had lost just four sets all season.
“Nothing was hyped up – they were just even-keeled and that really showed the younger kids what it looks like to get up here,” Boggs said.
But that poise was lost in the early stages as the Eagles had difficulty matching Central Catholic’s speed, committing five errors in a 9-2 start for the Saints in the first set.
DCS never recovered.
“I think if we didn’t start so slow, we could have at least taken a set from them,” Boggs said. “But, we did start slow and we can’t get that back … it’s done.
“I think we recovered well and they kept fighting – that’s what they’ve been all season,” Boggs said.
DCS improved with each set and fought back within three points at 21-18 in the third set before a lineup violation caused a delay. When action resumed, any DCS momentum had subsided.
It’s a family affair at Central Catholic, which is led by senior Sydney Gilland and junior Alexis Gilland, under the direction of coach and mother Michele Gilland.
Alexis Gilland led with 11 digs and tied Abbi Gillson with the team lead in kills (12) and Sydney Gilland added six kills and three aces.
Maggie Dominick had eight digs, three aces and two blocks, Brooke Beamer had seven kills and Molly Triplett added a pair of blocks for the Saints.
DCS graduates libero Mary Kerins, middle hitter Abbey Evans and setter Brianna Blackburn off a balanced team that saw the emergence of freshman Lyssi Snouffer, who led the team in kills this season.
Kerins led with 12 digs, Blackburn led with 14 assists and Evans led with four blocks and finished with four kills and four digs.
“(Evans) hasn’t seen a lot of balls recently … she knew she needed to step up because it was her last opportunity and she did a good job,” Boggs said.
Blackburn figures to be a difficult player to replace because of how far she’s come as a setter.
“They’re all going to be hard to replace, but the setter is so important and Brianna really has had a tremendous senior year,” Boggs said.
But, Boggs hopes this experience will help returnees like Snouffer, who led with seven kills to go with seven digs, in the future.
“I think the pressure finally got to her a little bit, but I’d still take her over anybody else,” Boggs said. “She’ll remember this and this will only help her grow and be a better player.”
Sarah Rosato had four kills and three digs and Anna Fuller had seven digs for the Eagles.
Central Catholic faces McComb in the state semifinals Friday at 2 p.m. at the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.