Royals on a roll: Even on an off night, EH volleyball finds ways to win

Eastern Hancock’s Sydni Bednarski (1) and Lili Hunt (10) block a ball hit by Tri High’s McKaela Betsch at Eastern Hancock High School on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (Richard Sitler/Daily Reporter)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the past, a night when the team was out of sync meant, most likely, an addition to the loss column.

The 2021 Eastern Hancock Royals volleyball team is not like teams of the recent past.

Wednesday evening in their home gym, the Royals didn’t play their best match, but they were able to find a way to pull out a 3-1 victory over Tri High.

Eastern Hancock won by set scores of 25-10, 25-15, 19-25, 25-16.

The Royals improved to 15-4 on the season. It was their fourth consecutive win. Tri dropped to 5-12.

“Overall we struggled a little bit tonight,” Eastern Hancock coach Cory Rainbolt said. “We should have been finished in three, but apparently the girls wanted to play a little bit longer.”

Eastern Hancock is on the verge of having its first winning season since 2017, when it went 21-14.

Winning percentage-wise, currently at 78.9 percent on the good side, the Royals are on pace to potentially have the program’s best season.

The previous best mark is 73.6 percent. The 2012 team went 28-10 and won both sectional and regional titles.

This year’s seniors were 11-19 as frosh, 11-20 in their second season and 10-19 last year.

“It feels good to win. It’s been a while,” Megan Retherford, one of four Royals seniors, said.

Rainbolt attributes this year’s turnaround to the experience gained by her now veteran team, praising the team chemistry of her senior players in their final campaign.

“The chemistry on the team is pretty good,” Rainbolt said. “I lend a lot of our winning to the chemistry of the girls. They are friends off the court, too, and I think that’s a big advantage for us. No matter what, they have each other’s backs.”

All are looking to be a part of a winning season for the first time. Retherford and Lili Hunt have been varsity players since they were freshmen. Sydni Bednarski played some varsity at the end of her frosh season. Bre Taulbee is a three-year veteran.

“Our skill level is a lot higher (than it has been) and we’ve been playing together forever,” Retherford said. “I think all of our starters have played together for at least three years.”

“(The team chemistry) is the most important thing. You have to be able to trust each other and get things done.”

Retherford said that was key in bouncing back to win the fourth set.

“We work well together. If one of us is down, another one can be better and bring the others up,” she said.

Against the Titans on Wednesday, senior Hunt had 13 kills. Bednarski had 10 kills and five service aces. Retherford had nine kills and 15 digs. Defensive specialist Brooklyn Willis had a team-best 21 digs. Alivia Coffin added five kills and junior setter Sydney Hayes had 34 assists.

It was all Royals the first two sets.

In the opener, Eastern Hancock scored seven straight points, six coming off Hunt’s serve, to take a 10-2 lead. Retherford had two kills during the run and Bednarski and Ella Shaw each had one.

In the second set, Tri led 3-0 before the Royals picked up the pace. A 7-0 Royal run made it 15-6. Libero Taulbee had a couple of service aces, while Coffin and Hayes aided with kills. Coffin also had a block.

The Titans, in set No. 3, got three straight service aces from sophomore Rylee Boyd. It turned her team’s 8-6 deficit to a 9-8 lead. Tri led the remainder of the set.

Tied at 5-5 in the fourth, a Retherford kill gave Eastern Hancock a lead it would never relinquish. After the tie, Eastern Hancock scored 12 of the next 14 points.

Three of this year’s four losses have come to either much larger schools or program’s that are also having very strong seasons.

Eastern Hancock lost to county large school Greenfield-Central (Class 4A) and have losses to Wapahani (14-1) and Wes-Del (13-3). Wapahani was last year’s Class 2A state runner-up.

The Royals travel to Mid-Eastern Conference foe Monroe Central today.

Eastern Hancock is 5-2 in league matches. The five wins are the most conference wins since it joined the MEC in 2017 and tied for most in any conference season. In 2014, EH went 5-4 in the Mid-Hoosier Conference.

“It’s been fun and exciting and our four seniors have been doing a great job leadership-wise and taking care of it on the floor, too,” Rainbolt added. “You can’t ask for much more from them.”