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Up 11-5 in the opening game of its semifinal match against Lincolnwood Tuesday at the Dieterich Sectional, the St. Elmo volleyball team seemed to have enough momentum to extend its unlikely postseason run to Thursday's championship and beyond.
"We came out (early) and played good volleyball," Lady Eagles coach Elise Asher said. "We were making good passes and getting the ball to our setters."
St. Elmo's hitters were taking care of the rest, as Amy Fulk and Megan Durbin each had two kills during the idyllic start, with Fulk and Timber Morrison adding a block apiece, for good measure.
But then, volleyball's ultimate momentum killer reared its ugly head.
Five Lady Eagle service errors during the second half of the first game helped the Lancers erase that early deficit and eventually cruise to a 25-18 win.
Lincolnwood then used that momentum to take charge early in Game 2 before holding off a valiant Lady Eagles comeback attempt in a 25-23 match-clinching victory.
"I don't have a crystal ball, but I know you can't miss five serves at this stage of the game and be successful," Asher said. "That was a killer for us. That just kind of took the wind out of our sails on five different occasions."
The Lady Eagles' struggles at the service line led to a general unraveling all over the court.
"The next thing you knew, our setters were chasing the ball back to the middle of the floor, and we couldn't get the ball to the people that needed to have it," Asher said.
Lincolnwood immediately took advantage, using a 5-0 run to cut the Lady Eagles' lead to 11-10.
The Lancers (26-10) completed their comeback moments later by evening the game at 14 apiece. St. Elmo temporarily righted the ship, going up 17-16 after a Lincolnwood double hit. But another Lady Eagles service error sparked a 9-1 Lancers run to close out the game.
"I think they were maybe a little over-aggressive (at the service line), trying to make that ace serve and put a little more topspin on it," Asher said. "Three of them caught the top of the net, and two of them went out of bounds."
St. Elmo shored up its serving troubles in the second game, but Lincolnwood - still riding a high from its first-game comeback - managed to jump out to a daunting 16-10 lead, nontheless.
The Lady Eagles showed no quit, however, battling back to cut that margin to just one point, 18-17, with an 8-1 run.
"I applaud the kids for their effort and not throwing in the towel," Asher said. "It would have been easy at that point, but they really pulled back together with some big hits and big defensive plays."
St. Elmo looked to be in serious trouble a few moments later, however, as a Jenna Merkel kill stretched the Lancers lead back out to three, 23-20, putting Lincolnwood just two points away from victory.
But two straight Lancer hitting errors and Fulk's ninth kill of the night completed St. Elmo's comeback, tying the game at 23.
Lady Luck was no friend to the Lady Eagles down the stretch, though, as Borgic came up with a seeing-eye kill that split two St. Elmo defenders, putting the Lancers on the brink.
The match then ended in unfortunate fashion, as Fulk was called for crossing the centerline on a kill attempt.
"It is a tough way to end the match, but I tell you, I wouldn't want the ball in anybody else's hands in crunch time," said Asher of Fulk, who led the Lady Eagles with nine kills and set the school's career record in that department last week. "We've got to give it to Amy and let her do what she's good at and what she's done all year long."
Despite drawing the ire of the large contingent of Eagles fans on hand, Asher said the right call was made.
"It just so happens she came across the line," Asher said. "It was a good call. You hate to end the match that way, but that's just the way it goes."
The disappointing finish aside, the Lady Eagles (24-12) enjoyed another fine season, highlighted by an upset victory over South Central in the championship of their own regional.
Asher said that seniors Hailey Carson, Vanessa Baker and Lindsey Mills were a big part of the success.
"I thank our seniors for being great leaders, team players, role players, and really paving the way for these younger players to get a lot of experience and to get a taste of something I don't think anybody expected from us, with the success we had this year," Asher said.
And with seven of their top nine players set to return next year, St. Elmo's future looks very bright, as well.
"We have a lot to look forward to," Asher said.. "They want to raise the bar, which they've done since they were in junior high. It's not just enough to win 20 games. So we'll take a little bit of a break and come back in the summertime with new focus and see what we can come up with next fall."
Durbin added four kills for St. Elmo, while Britani Bealsey had a team-high 10 assists.
Fulk also had five digs and two blocks, and Maxey led the Lady Eagles with seven digs.