Eagles score final six points in a matchup of top-15 teams
After watching her team dominate the first two sets, Eastern High School volleyball coach Laura Bowling knew that closing out Holy Cross on Wednesday would be a tough task.
“Coming in I was like, I know we can beat them because we have the skills,” she said. “But I knew it was going to go five (sets). I told the girls, ‘This isn’t going to be easy.’ ”
Bowling proved to be right, as Holy Cross rallied to force a fifth and decisive set. But the host Eagles regrouped, scoring the final six points of the match to pull out a 25-18, 25-14, 22-25, 23-25, 15-11 victory in a matchup of top-15 teams.
“They like to give me a little heart test now and then,” Bowling said with a laugh. “We stopped communicating. That was the biggest issue for us. We just have to keep working on it.”
Seniors Molly Gilkinson (13 kills) and Megan Willoughby (11) led the offense for No. 12 Eastern (18-3), which won the Jefferson County Public Schools Tournament last month. Senior Madalyn Wead (four blocks, three aces) and junior Sydney Calhoun (four blocks) also had big nights.
Senior Monica Loftus (19 kills) and sophomore Beth Newton (11) led No. 14 Holy Cross (14-10). Senior Hannah Pierce added seven aces for a Cougars team that lost in the semifinals of the All “A” Classic State Tournament last weekend.
Coach Liz Schuler said an alignment change helped her team rally after a slow start.
“We put people out there who would bring energy to the court, and it worked in the third and fourth games,” she said. “But in a short game to 15, we just didn’t have anybody to terminate the ball in the front row in that fifth game.”
Eastern appeared to be on its way to a three-set sweep, trailing just once in the first two (4-3 in the second).
But Holy Cross finally got rolling in the third, getting two kills from Maddie Jacobi and two aces from Pierce during a 6-1 run that made it 17-12. Eastern tied the score at 22, but Holy Cross closed it with a kill from Emmalee Fleener and two straight by Jacobi.
The Cougars jumped to a 12-5 lead in the fourth set, only to see Eastern rally for a 20-19 lead on Calhoun’s kill. The Cougars scored the next five for a 24-20 lead, Eastern pulled within 24-23 and Loftus closed it with a kill to force the fifth set.
Consecutive kills by Loftus, Natalie Bodenbender and Halle Snyder gave the Cougars an 11-9 edge in the fifth, but it was all Eastern from there. Gilkinson had three kills and Wead had a kill and a block as the Eagles closed out the match.
“Our hitters are our strength,” Bowling said. “(Gilkinson) has totally stepped up the past three weeks and been kind of dominating.”
It was another solid victory for an Eastern team that may well be the city’s best outside of the top three of Mercy, Assumption and Sacred Heart, all of whom are nationally ranked.
Among Top 25 teams in Kentucky, Eastern also owns wins over No. 8 Ryle, No. 13 Christian Academy and No. 16 Manual.
“I’m a senior and I’ve been playing volleyball for nine years, and I told my team, ‘This is our last year to show what Eastern has as a public school going up against these Catholic teams,’ ” Willoughby said. “We’re doing the best we can and showing them what we have. We want to be on that list of top schools.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.