Eastwood's volleyball team was not going to share this year's Northern Buckeye Conference championship. No way, no how.
Two years ago first-year coach Jeff Beck's Eagles shared the Suburban Lakes League title with Otsego. Last year, Eastwood tied Genoa for the final SLL title. Eastwood, Genoa and Otsego now play in the NBC, which is in its first year, and the Eagles are the champs – outright.
They clinched the outright title Tuesday night with a 25-14, 25-15, 25-15 win over the visiting Comets on Senior Night.
|Eastwood junior Brooke Salazar (5), senior captain
Courtney Rolf (13), and sophomore Emily Hayward
(15) celebrate after a win over Genoa Tuesday
earns the Eagles the inaugural Northern Buckeye
Conference volleyball champioship. (Press photo
by John Pollock/www.pollocksmugmug.com)
“Sharing a league title is great,” said senior defensive specialist Andrea Kotula, a first-year starter who has played on the Eagles' varsity squad for three years. “We got off to a good start when coach Beck came (in 2009), but winning it outright made a huge difference. As a senior, we didn't want to share. We're tired of sharing.
“We want to prove to our community that our volleyball program is strong and we play our best every game, and we wanted to win it outright this year.”
Eastwood clinched at least a share of the title last Thursday with a win at Woodmore. Tuesday's win pushed the 15th-ranked (Division II) Eagles to 19-2 and 13-0 in the conference.
“Winning the NBC outright meant to me that the girls and my program are finally understanding what the word tradition means,” Beck said. “We shared in '09 and '10, and we had a very heavy graduation loss last year with several key players graduating. We believed we were going to continue winning titles. To do it with only two returning starters (Brittney Firsdon and Courtney Rolf) this year is even more gratifying because of the young kids who are on varsity for the first time.”
NBC Commissioner Larry Jones was on hand to watch Tuesday's match, then presented Eastwood with the championship trophy afterward.
“He made an announcement on our PA system, which was cool for our players and fans,” Beck said. “It meant everything to us for him to come. He stayed and watched the whole match. That's what I was impressed with the most.”
Kotula said the team didn't realize it would be presented with the NBC trophy Tuesday night.
“Everyone was totally shocked,” she said. “Our team worked so hard to get that trophy. It felt great to get a picture with it, with our whole team and our coach.”
Eastwood suffered its only two losses of the season this past week. The Eagles lost to Notre Dame Academy last Saturday at the Clay Invitational, then lost in five games - 16-14 in the fifth - at home to Clay on Monday.
“Notre Dame is an amazing team,” Beck said. “Clay played phenomenal. They're the best defensive team we've played all year. They dug every single thing we hit. We couldn't buy a point in the first two games.”
Those two losses were completely forgotten by the Eagles following their win over Genoa. Eastwood, which plays its final regular-season match at Elmwood on Thursday, had a two-match lead on runner-up Otsego with one match left.
“We haven't lost a set in the entire league so far,” Beck said. “That's what I am so impressed with.”
Beck added that his team started strong and finished strong to put Genoa away. The Comets were never able to score more than three consecutive points during the match.
“We played amazing,” Beck said. “We executed our offense and we served aggressively. We ran our plays and we just attacked the ball.”
Eastwood's two returning senior starters, Firsdon and Rolf, are both middle hitters. The rest of the lineup includes Kotula, junior outside hitter Brooke Salazar, sophomore outside hitter Elise Wolff, junior libero Aricka LaVoy, sophomore defensive specialist Cassidy Rolf, right side hitter Allison Sutton and freshman setter Jaci Juergens.
“We are such a tight-knit group,” Kotula said. “We have truly become a family. We celebrated as a family and that moment will never be taken away from any of us, which is a true blessing. The three seniors worked so hard all four years, and winning the title on our Senior Night was just icing on the cake. We appreciate all the coaching staff has done for us and our fans cheering us on and our jayvee team being there for us.”
The Eagles' junior varsity team, led by head coach Lindsey Payne, had an 11-2 record through Wednesday.
The varsity squad, seeded No. 1, plays Scott in the D-II sectional tournament opener next Wednesday at Liberty Center. If the Eagles advance to districts, they could have a chance to play Celina, which bounced Eastwood from postseason play the last two years.