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CARLINVILLE – There is something to be said for determined play at any level of athletics.
The Lady Vandal eighth-grade volleyball team showed why on Monday, despite a straight-set loss to Carlinville at the sectional tournament.
At the end of the first set, Carlinville’s Talesha Scott served eight straight points, including seven aces, to put the Lady Warriors ahead, 23-11.
Vandalia coach Geri Reuss, however, called a timeout in an effort to refocus her team and kill off Carlinville’s momentum.
A Kadi Metzger kill on the first point after the break did just that and helped set up the Lady Vandals’ early lead in the second set.
“Sometimes, when you get that one thing, it changes everything,” Ruess said.
Vandalia (19-1) leaned on Metzger’s serving to take a 9-3 advantage early in the second set.
A nice string of serves from Jordan Wagner later extended that lead to 15-7. Until that point, Carlinville (21-2) had scored just two points on its own serves.
“We were a little more relaxed, and that determination kicked in,” Ruess said. “They knew they could do it, and just had to put it together.”
The Lady Vandals, however, were unable to stop Scott’s serves when she toed the line, as she helped Carlinville cut the lead down to 15-13.
The match would then be tied four times, the last coming at 21, before Scott used two thunderous kills to help cement the win.
“They earned their points toward the end,” Reuss said. “They are a good team, but we did as much as we could to fight back.”
That fight and determination has been with the Lady Vandals all season long.
It started with the season-opening Edwardsville Tournament, when the team had to rally from behind in three of the four games it played to win the tourney.
And it lasted all the way to the 20th game of the season, which is one of the main reasons Reuss thinks the most accomplished junior high team she has ever coached can be equally as good in high school.
“I don’t think there’s anything they can’t do,” she said. “Anytime we asked them to do something this year, whether it was new or different, they were able to do it.
“They had the desire and determination, and that goes a long way.”
The Lady Vandals advanced to Monday’s game by winning the regional championship against Blue Mound Meredian in unconventional fashion last Thursday.
After battling to a 28-26 overtime decision in the first set, the Lady Vandals had to refocus from a 25-1 setback as they entered the decisive third set.
“When we were ready to start the third one, I said, ‘You have to show everyone what you’re made of,’” Ruess said. “I don’t know if that was it or not, but they came out and did what they wanted to do.”
Vandalia took control early and shut down Tori Deardorff, who had served 22 straight points in the second set, to win the regional title with a 25-18 set win.
Ruess said the turnaround was the greatest comeback she ever remembers.
“I don’t think I’ve had one like that; lose that bad and come back to play,” she said. “They wanted it from the heart, and they were determined.”
Most impressive, however, might be that the Lady Vandals did not trail in the final set, starting on a 4-0 run behind Jessica Sullens and finishing the same way behind Mercedes Reynolds.
The win gives the group back-to-back regional championships for the first time in VJHS history.
There were three ties in the first set before Vandalia took control, holding a lead on the Lady Hawks from 12-11 until the game was knotted again at 24.
“They’re a good team and played their hearts out, too,” Reuss said. “They are a very consistent passing team and will run down every ball.”
A couple of points later, Metzger blocked a ball to tie the game at 26, and an ace from Sullens set up the final point, which came on a Meridian attack error.
But then came the second set. The only point Vandalia scored came because a Meridian player was in the net.
Deardorff then used seven aces and a variety of serving techniques to shut down the Lady Vandals.
“It wasn’t a hard serve,” Reuss said. “It was just a nice floater over the net. Her different speeds gave us trouble.”