Eastern Eagles’ Megan Willoughby, left, jumps for joy as she joins her teammates in celebrating their win over Manual. Eastern defeated Manual, 48-46, 19-25, 25-19 to win the Jefferson County Volleyball Tournament championship. 24 August 2014
After her team struggled with its serving earlier in the day, Eastern volleyball coach Laura Bowling took to looking away whenever the Eagles served late in Sunday’s Jefferson County Public Schools Tournament Gold Bracket final.
The “no-look” approach worked well for Bowling and her team as Eastern outlasted Manual 28-26, 19-25, 25-19 — thanks in large part to solid serving in the decisive set — to win its second straight JCPS tourney title.
“We had missed a lot of serves (in earlier matches) and they were making me nervous,” Bowling explained. “But great serving in set 3, that was really what won it for us.”
The victory also avenged the Eagles’ straight-sets loss to the Crimsons in their season opener last week. Manual, No. 20 in the coaches’ preseason Top 25, dispatched 15th-ranked Eastern 26-24, 25-23, 25-21 last Tuesday.
“We were out for revenge and we got it,” Eagles senior outside hitter Megan Willoughby said.
Things didn’t start out so well for Eastern, though.
Manual, coming off a straight-sets victory over archrival and 11th-ranked Male in the semifinals, jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first set.
The Eagles, however, hung around and eventually tied it at 20-all.
“We were telling them that all weekend, don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up, you can never get down too far,” Bowling said.
Eastern took its first lead at 23-22. The two teams then traded the next eight points before a Crimsons hitting error clinched the first set for Eastern.
“We had a lot of confidence and heart,” Willoughby said.
The Eagles carried that momentum over into the start of the second set, jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Manual, however, quickly fought back to tie it, then take the lead. Mackenzie Ferriell’s down-the-line kill pushed the Crimsons ahead 7-6. They held Eastern at bay the rest of the way. The Eagles cut Manual’s lead to 22-19 late before back-to-back aces by Ferriell and a Stacy Henley kill finished it for Crimsons.
The third set was all Eastern at the start as it raced out to a 15-4 lead behind the serving of senior Madalyn Wead and Willoughby. Wead won five straight service points, and Willoughby three in a row, as the Eagles built their sizable advantage.
Eastern’s lead reached its apex, at 19-7, on a kill by Wead.
Manual rallied late to make things interesting.
Trailing 23-15 the Crimsons scored four straight points to cut Eastern’s lead in half. However Willoughby’s 13th, and final, kill stemmed the Crimsons’ tide. The match ended moments later on a Manual hitting error.
“We got in our own heads,” first-year Manual coach Caitlin Welch said. “After one mistake we couldn’t fix it.”
In addition to the Eagles’ strong serving and Willoughby’s 13 kills, senior Amanda Frank anchored Eastern’s defense with 24 digs, almost half of her team’s 51.