The Eastside High School volleyball team suffered a devastating loss at home in the Class AAAA state playoffs Thursday night. Despite a valiant effort, the Eagles fell 3-2 to the visiting West Hall Spartans.
“Overall, the team had a great season,” said Eastside coach Maggie Johnston. “They started out rough and were able to make an amazing journey out of it, going all the way to the state playoffs, which is something they haven’t done in a really long time here at Eastside. They’ve never been runner up in the area before, so this team has a lot to be proud of. It’s a tough loss tonight, but there’s nothing to be upset about for this team this year.”
The Spartans dominated the first set early on. After being tied 5-5, West Hall went on a 4-0 run to take a 9-5 lead. The Eagles scored back-to-back, but the Spartans continued to control the game to go up 16-9 and force an Eagle timeout. When the Eagles were down 25-16, a block by Eastside’s Lillian Fowler sparked a 7-0 run to cut the Spartan’s lead down to one, but one more point by West Hall gave the Spartans a 25-23 victory in the set.
The Eagles played with much more poise in the second set, scoring seven straight points after West Hall grabbed the first two for a 7-2 lead. A back row error called by referees gave West Hall a point at 9-7 and sparked a comeback for the Spartans, who shortly took a 10-9 lead. The teams tied a few more times, but when a Fowler ace and a team block gave the Eagles an 18-17 lead, they never looked back, taking the second set 25-22.
The back-and-forth battle between the two teams continued through the next two sets as they split the wins, with West Hall winning set three 27-25 and Eastside taking the fourth 25-21. The fifth and final set proved to be intense as both sides grew emotional trying to be the first to 15 points. Eastside grabbed a quick 3-1 lead at the start, but West Hall answered with four straight points to take over 5-3.
The set saw three more ties, but when the Spartans got out to a two-point lead at 9-7, they held on for the rest of the way, killing Eastside’s hopes of advancing.
Eastside’s Chasity Smith had a great night on the court, grabbing ten kills, eight attacks and three aces.
“[Chasity is] amazing,” Johnston said. “She takes care of that front row, she’s active in the back row. We love having her. She’s also vocal on the court. She’s one of our leaders. She took control tonight, and had an amazing game.”
Thursday’s match was the final one for the team’s three seniors. Though the Eagles have plenty of talent returning next year, replacing those three will be no easy feat.
“All three of our seniors were an active role, so it will be a hard thing to replace,” Johnston said. “Even though it sounds like only three, all of them played, so we need to work on filling those spots this spring.”
Following the game, Johnston made sure she reminded her team why they should keep their heads up despite the heartbreaking loss.
“I told them it’s going to sting tonight,” she said. “This loss really stings, and it should, but there’s overall to be ashamed of. This team had a great season. They worked hard. They overcame a lot of adversity through where they started to where they finished, so there’s nothing to hang their heads about.”