The match began the way much of the season had gone for the New Castle volleyball team, with an overwhelming wave of energy and dominance.
But like a wave crashing, the energy dissipated after the first set of Tuesday night’s regional, and the dreams of a Class 4A state championship washed away with it.
Class 4A No. 3 New Castle, one of the top teams in its class and once nationally ranked, watched a good start go for naught at Bishop Chatard came back to snatch a 15-25, 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 win on the New Castle Fieldhouse’s parquet floor. The loss brings an end to a season in which New Castle went 28-4 with a talent-laden roster.
The moments after had all the tears and despondency that usually serve as postscript for a high school season, but the heights to which New Castle climbed seemed to make the loss that much harder.
“It’s difficult,” New Castle coach Mike Dodrill said, voice still a bit raw. “There’s almost no words that can describe a championship win and no words can describe when you lose.
“When they take that energy and we didn’t take it back from them, they played with great energy, great ferocity and we just kind of let them take it away from us.”
Things started well for New Castle with an 8-0 lead in the first set as it cruised to an opening win. But things got rockier from there.
Chatard (23-13) adjusted its defense to counter the ferocious hitting of New Castle star Lauryn Gillis, and that seemed to put New Castle on its heels.
“Mary Kilbane, our senior libero, she’s like, ‘Hey, I’m getting beat to my left.'” Chatard coach Nick Wolf said. “We moved our left fronts a little bit. She sat in the spot and Gillis just kept hitting right at her.”
Kilbane finished with 29 digs, while Gillis still had 34 kills.
And as the Chatard defense stiffened, New Castle struggled in that area and in ball control.
Chatard took an edge in the middle of Set 2, made it last and managed to always stay a step ahead in Set 3, partially powered by a dynamic performance from outside hitter Anna Logan, who finished with 26 kills.
New Castle was slightly hobbled because setter Kiley Lingenfelter had a bad ankle injury that limited her mobility, but Dodrill and Gillis both said that didn’t play much of a factor.
At its last gasp, New Castle hung in, playing tight throughout the fourth set before falling behind 24-19. From there the hosts pushed back with a 5-0 run that included two aces and a kill for Gillis, last season’s Gatorade State Volleyball Player of the Year trying to keep her final season alive.
But just as New Castle’s run came, Chatard scored the next two points, and Hannah Gardner’s kill provided the final swing.
Gillis was the last member of her team out of the locker room as she took a while to compose herself, and the emotions packed into those final moments, coming so close to see it slip away, still stuck with her.
“As we were rallying back, I really thought we had it,” Gillis said. “I really thought that we were going to pull it out. I guess that last point, that very last point, you kind of felt it as soon as it happened. It’s almost like a shock to you because you think you have it and all of a sudden, it’s gone.”