CHARLOTESVILLE — The Eastern Hancock volleyball team could never quite figure out Shenandoah this season.
In their third matchup of the year, the Class 2A Shenandoah Raiders won again, this time in a four-set match (25-11, 25-17, 17-25, 25-17) against the host Royals on Saturday night in the Sectional 42 championship.
Both teams enjoyed a relatively easy path to the championship match, winning 3-0 in each of their semifinals earlier in the day.
The Royals defeated Indianapolis Howe 25-2, 25-4, 25-1. Laurie Eells broke a school record with 13 aces against Howe, previously set by Kaysi Gilbert in 2016. Riley Noel tacked on eight, and Kayla Fancher and Paige Wickard each had six. The team total was 41.
The championship game, however, was a different story.
A driven Royals team, which lost a five-set match against Shenandoah last month, took a few sets to warm up against the Raiders, who breezed through the first 25-11.
The Royals tried a few lineup changes that did not pan out in the first set, but they started getting into their groove in the second set, forcing a Shenandoah timeout after an 8-6 lead.
The momentum shift was driven by a Jenna Smith block and a Maddy Stunda kill. A late Raiders run in the second would pre-empt a Royals’ rally in the third.
“The third set we just came together a little better,” Eastern Hancock head coach Cory Rainbolt said. “I told the girls, ‘Listen, we can’t let the balls drop. We got to be aggressive; we got to hit the floor ready to run.’”
Eells joined Stunda with a few kills of her own to kick off the set. Stunda led the night with eight kills and an ace. Eells had five kills and an ace, and Jenna Smith had two kills and five blocks.
“We worked really hard on hitting cross shots, and Maddy Stunda did a fabulous job of hitting those consecutively when she got in the front row,” Rainbolt said.
The Royals’ rally was followed by multiple Raider errors. At one point, the Royals led 8-3, then held a steady lead until a few Smith blocks sealed the third set.
However, the rally did not last through the fourth as the Raiders’ Hallie Holbrook and Brianna Tapcott refused to let up.
“We knew their big hitters were Hallie and Brianna, so unfortunately, we had a plan and that didn’t work,” Rainbolt said. “We tried it the first set, but we weren’t comfortable with that rotation. I think if we had more time to work on it, we would have been a little more successful with that.”
Another downfall for the Royals was their serves. A Royals kill would set up a potential rally, then a missed serve would halt their momentum.
“We were supposed to serve aggressively, and that ended in a lot of service errors being long,” Rainbolt said. “Our intentions were to pick up a few more serve-receive points, and it just ended up shooting us in the foot.”
The Royals ended their season with a 21-14 record — their first winning season in five years. The seniors were Stunda, Eells, Payton Hicks and Haley Dickison.
“They are four top-notch girls,” Rainbolt said. “They have been excellent role models for the team all season long, and I couldn’t ask for any better seniors to lead the team.”
Eastern Hancock 3, Indianapolis Howe 0
Aces: Laurie Ells 13, Riley Noel 8, Kayla Fancher 6, Paige Wickard 6, Leiya Sotelo 5, Jaley Best 3 (EH).
Shenandoah 3, Eastern Hancock 1
Kills: Maddy Stunda 8, Laurie Eells 5 (EH). Blocks: Jenna Smith 5 (EH).