Lady Vandals' historic season ends

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By Seth Whitehead

Coming off a regular season in which it accomplished just about everything it set out to do, it was only natural for the Vandalia volleyball team to want even more success in the postseason.

A regional title was not in the cards, however, as a hard-hitting Newton team ended Vandalia's historic 2008 campaign Saturday with a 25-17, 25-23 win over the Lady Vandals in the championship of the Olney-East Richland Class 2A Regional.

Though the disappointment of coming up a win short of the program's first regional title since 1985 was at the forefront of the Lady Vandals' minds after the loss, coach Allison Smith quickly put things into proper perspective.

"I told them, 'You guys have nothing to ashamed of, by any means - you have everything in the world to be proud of,'" said Smith, whose team won its first-ever outright SCC-East title this year, finishing with a program-record 24 wins.

"Yeah, we would have liked to have ended it a little differently," Smith added, "but to have the opportunity to be in the championship game, and just to have the year we've had, I told them it's something they'll remember that the rest of their lives."

Though the Lady Vandals (24-7) weren't as sharp as they've been recently, Newton deserves a lot of credit for handing VCHS just its second loss in its final 17 matches.

The Lady Eagles won their 14th regional title since 1989, thanks in large part, to outstanding serving.

Newton finished with just one service error and eight aces, and it was able to set up its potent offense all match with quality serves.

"Newton's got a great team," Smith said. "They're talented in every position.

"I thought our serve receive - especially in the first game - was hurting. We got down and just couldn't get back up."

Vandalia led 3-2 early on after an Amanda Walton tip-kill, but Newton responded with an 11-1 run that VCHS was never able to recover from.

The Lady Vandals bounced back in Game 2, however, jumping out to quick 3-0 lead.

Newton quickly drew even though, and it looked to be on the verge of pulling away after a 7-0 run gave it a 14-7 lead.

The Lady Eagles maintained that comfortable lead, as back-to-back aces by Kimberlin Wallace had Newton up 18-11 late, but the Lady Vandals refused to quit.

A Walton kill capped a 9-3 Lady Vandals run that cut Newton's lead to just one, 21-20. But VCHS couldn't quite get over the hump.

Vandalia had a chance to tie the match at the service line after a Walton ace cut Newton's lead to 24-23, but a hitting error ended VCHS's season.

"It's just hard to overcome (a big deficit) with the rally scoring," Smith said. "But I think at the end, our emotions got the best of us. Especially the last point. We couldn't believe it was over, and it actually was."

Smith had to say goodbye to a dedicated group of five seniors - Walton, Shelby Cearlock, Stephanie Henna, Mary Davis and Tori Hagy - following the match.

She has been coaching the group since they were in seventh grade.

"They've just made such an impression, not just on the floor, but in the way they've interacted with me, the way they've interacted with the younger kids and just how they've grown and developed since I've had them as seventh graders," said Smith of her seniors. "They've made their mark and left their impression."

The group made up the core of what Smith believes will "eventually be a (VCHS) Hall of Fame team."

"This season has just been one that's very close to my heart," Smith added.

The Lady Vandals advanced to the championship Thursday with a sweep of Robinson. Individual stats were unavailable for the match.