At times in Wednesday night’s Grant County matchup between the Eastbrook Panthers and the Oak Hill Golden Eagles, both teams played excellent volleyball.
At other times, there were struggles – misplaced attacks, hitting and service errors, and a lack of communication.
However, despite the inconsistencies and a tough loss in the second set, the Panthers pushed through, winning their second straight contest and securing their eighth victory of the season with a four-set triumph over the Golden Eagles (25-20, 20-25, 25-16, 25-22).
“I was proud of them,” Havens said. “Game two was a little more of a struggle, but we came out and we won. That, to me, speaks volumes because we didn’t stop. We moved forward and we did not give up. The fact that they pulled it out, even going four, I loved it.”
With a young team full of inexperience, Oak Hill had their share of mistakes as well, coupled with signs of growth. Kristi Carmichael and the Golden Eagles have focused on becoming more attack-oriented and improving communication and team movement. At times, particularly in the second set, Oak Hill showed flashes of how good they can be once they put it all together.
“I see signs of improvement,” Carmichael said. “Yes, we had some letdowns, we missed some serves, we did some things that if we would have fixed, it could have been a different ball game, but I was much prouder of the team effort tonight.”
Eastbrook built an early 6-1 lead in the first set and never looked back, leading by as many as nine points and holding off a late Oak Hill surge to grab the early advantage.
In the second set, Eastbrook looked to be in control, using an 8-0 surge to take a 15-10 lead, but Oak Hill came roaring back. A 7-0 run turned a five-point deficit into a two-point lead, and the Golden Eagles outscored the Panthers 8-5 the rest of the way to tie the match at one set apiece.
While Oak Hill was unable to build on their second set victory, they showed that they are capable of playing volleyball at a high level, and it is something that Carmichael hopes to build on going forward.
“They were so excited,” Carmichael said. “I told them, ‘Okay, now you know you can do it. Just go out and do it again.’ Building some confidence, we just need that going forward. I think confidence is a big key.”
Eastbrook bounced back to win the final two sets, putting their rough performance in the second game behind them quickly.
“I think we got too comfortable in game two,” Havens said. “I made the comment of, ‘It’s an incline 24/7, you never plateau.’ I’m not saying that I gave them all the right words, but they definitely picked it up.”
The Panthers built a 12-7 lead in the third set and led by as many as seven en route to a nine-point triumph, and in the final game, they withstood another Golden Eagle rally, scoring six of the final eight points to improve to 8-7.
“We are getting there. They are working hard,” Havens said. “You can see it in different spurts. But the moment they figure it out on both ends, it’s a done deal.
“A lot of huddles and a lot of talk at practice and after games is the inconsistency. It’s a matter of being here mentally but also physically. Once we can get that and stay committed 24/7 on both aspects, we will have a different team.”
Eastbrook’s ever-improving group of front-line hitters take advantage of Oak Hill’s smaller lineup throughout the evening. Lexi Binkerd led the Panthers’ offense with 14 kills, while Chloe Poe played one of her best matches of the season, collecting 12 terminations.
“She had one hit against Elwood [the other night] that was phenomenal. It was straight down and it was beautiful. [Tonight,] I said, ‘Chloe, I want at least 17 of those tonight.’ She showed up. Obviously, she had moments where she made mistakes, but she to me was the player of the game. I was proud of her tonight.”
Ava Walters recorded 32 assists for Eastbrook, while Binkerd also led the defensive effort with 18 digs.
For the Golden Eagles, Julianne Gosnell and Alyssa Thompson co-led the Oak Hill offense with eight kills apiece, while Alivia Shaw collected 17 assists. Mia Edward led the Golden Eagles’ defensive effort with 14 digs.