TRURO — Even after a shaky start, the East Union Eagles volleyball team looked like it was going to continue soaring on to its third-straight state tournament berth here Wednesday.
But, the Class 1A No. 14-ranked Grandview Park Baptist Defenders stormed back to life midway through the fourth set to force a deciding fifth set, where the Defenders clipped the Eagles’ wings, and earned the program’s eighth trip to the state tournament.
Grandview Park Baptist won the match 25-18, 23-25, 16-25, 25-19, 15-6, sending the 10th-ranked Eagles home.
“I thought the girls had a great effort,” EU head coach Gail Thatcher said. “We had some low spots in our game, some lulls that allowed Grandview to take over, but the girls played hard. They fought for every point and they never gave up. I’m really proud of them for that.”
The tide began to turn in the fourth set, after EU senior Amber Friend had just given the Eagles a 13-11 lead.
The Defenders scored the next point, and then GVPB junior Maddie Thompson terminated two straight points emphatically to give the Defenders a 14-13 lead.
A Friend kill knotted the set at 14-apiece, but GVPB quickly struck with three straight points and never looked back in the set.
After failing to win the fourth set and end the match, the Eagles suddenly began sailing in uncharted waters, as they had not played in a five-set match all season prior to Wednesday night.
After winning the first point of the set, Grandview Park Baptist won the next two points. After Emily Wolfe’s attack sailed long out of bounds, the score was knotted at 2.
Then, Thompson took over the match, scoring four straight points herself, as the Defenders strung together a 9-0 run to take a commanding 11-2 lead.
EU senior Shelby Smith scored three straight points for the Eagles, cutting the lead to 11-5, but the Defenders closed out the set and the match with a 15-6 win.
“We haven’t played many five-set matches,” Thatcher said. “Usually, came in with three and four-and-outs. I knew when we didn’t get that fourth game, we were going to have to fight and focus, and it’s just not something we have experience with this year.”
Thompson, standing at 6-0, proved to be a tough matchup for the Eagles.
Thompson was especially effective off of the quick set in the middle of the net, which gave East Union problems.
“Running their quick out of the middle, and us being able to adjust to that,” Thatcher said of the challenges her team faced. “One of the main things is every time they did that, we needed to answer them and we didn’t always do that. That was the difference in the game, I felt.”
Bailey Oberbroeckling, a 6-0 senior, and Kaylee Whittington, a 5-11 sophomore, also gave the Eagles problems, forming a tall front row that altered the Eagle attack.
GVPB head coach Matt Thompson said his team knew East Union would be a tough challenge.
“We knew that Amber Friend, she was a huge player,” Thompson said. “We knew they had played a high level all year. And they actually had run through their pairings pretty easily playing at a high level, and we struggled. We struggled in regional play.
“East Union is a tough team. They have several players that came up big for them tonight,” Thompson continued. “We were keying on Amber, but obviously, they had some other girls that really stepped up. We were just fortunate enough to come away with a win.”
East Union finished the season with a 30-6 mark, while Grandview Park Baptist improved to 29-6. The Defenders, making their first trip to the state tournament since 2010, open up with No. 1-ranked Grundy Center in the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 8.
Four East Union players ended their careers in the loss. Seniors on the team were Smith, Rochelle Means, Friend and Dusti Carlisle.
East Union statistics
Serving (aces) — Amber Friend 21-21 (2), Rochelle Means 13-13 (1), Kelsey Hoff 11-13 (1), Brittany Malone 11-11, Shelby Smith 19-19, Dusti Carlisle 15-16 (1).
Attacks (kills) — Friend 64-70 (19), Smith 36-39 (18), Means 18-19 (4), Carlisle 7-7 (2), Malone 14-21 (5), Hoff 21-26 (7), Chay Blondowski 6-8 (2).
Blocks (solo-assists) — Hoff 3-0, Smith 2-0.
Setting (assists) — Means 45, Carlisle 1, Blondowski 1.
Digs — Carlisle 31, Friend 26, Malone 22, Smith 20, Means 14, Hoff 5, Blondowski 5.
Serve receive — Carlisle 28-35, Friend 12-13, Smith 23-28, Malone 12-17, Hoff 1-1, Means 1-1.