Everything that the senior class wanted last Thursday happened – and then some.
With the 25-23, 25-20, victory against Pana on senior night, Vandalia captured a win against its biggest rival, the conference championship and a victory in the seniors’ final regular-season game.
The senior class was recognized before the game – first with a flash mob dance from the underclassmen and then with their parents – and Austyn Krueger, Sierah Ruffner, RaeChelle Leiken, Shelby Foster, Gabby McNutt, Abby Dugan and Haley Cothern closed the night in tears of joy after the biggest win of their careers.
“Senior night? Win. Conference? Win. Pana? Winning, too,” Krueger said. “Everything we have been working for came true on this night.”
Added Leiken, “It is about the biggest win I could have right now. Beating Pana, winning conference and winning on senior night? I couldn’t get any more excited.”
Winning the conference championship was one of the major goals that the team set out to achieve this season – with others being captured this year already, including winning championships in the Altamont and Vandalia Tournaments.
And there’s a very clear reason why the third goal was met.
Last Thursday’s win saw the team play with a fluidity that hasn’t been seen this season, and coach Allison Smith said that she expected nothing less from her seniors in that situation.
“Every year, you hate to lose the seniors, but this group has been such a joy with their pure determination and focus on things they want to accomplish,” she said. “I’ve never had a group that even on senior night came out and played well.
“Usually at this time of the year, players are ready to move on to the next sport, but this group is not.”
The Lady Vandals are one of the most cohesive units that the school has seen, as all players – freshmen to seniors – get along and respect each other’s abilities.
And for Ruffner, that made winning even more special.
“I am numb, because I am so excited, but the best part was playing with this team,” she said. “It means a lot, because we all wanted to go out with a bang.”
Leiken, who transferred to Vandalia from Oregon as a junior, said she had wondered how special the victory would be to her.
But after winning, there was no question that the championship meant just as much to her as it did to the rest of the seniors.
“I was thinking this week, ‘Is this going to feel the same for me?’” Leiken said. “But I would not want to be playing with any of my other previous teams.
“I absolutely love my team, and I hope we play like this (in the regional tournament).”