JOHNSTON CITY — Not even Al Michaels would have believed the miracle Carterville’s volleyball team pulled off Wednesday night.
After losing the first set to Nashville 25-21 in the finals of the Class 2A Johnston City Sectional, the Lions promptly dug a 16-6 hole. Coach Nathan Emrick had no timeouts left and nothing to stop the Hornettes.
Aside from hope and belief.
“All we were trying to do is focus on the next point,” he said.
Well, not only did Carterville focus on the next point, they focused on many more after that. Not only did it wipe out a 10-point deficit and win the second game 25-23, it found the energy to win the third game 25-23 and capture the program’s first sectional title.
When Regan Eigenrauch’s kill on match point fluttered to the floor, she jumped up and down, shrieking with joy. Her fellow teammates and students stormed the floor, flooding the Lions’ half of it with blue and orange.
“Oh, my gosh, what an unreal feeling,” said Carterville hitter Amanda Howerton. “Down 16-6 in the second set, I thought we were done. But it was just a matter of fighting. And once we tied the second game, we got the momentum and you could see the panic on their faces.”
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The Lions (34-5) will meet Breese Mater Dei, which eliminated Staunton in the finals of the Vandalia Sectional, at 7 p.m. Friday in the Nashville Super-Sectional. The winner goes to Normal next weekend for the state semifinal.
For most of the match, it looked like the Hornettes (32-6) would serve as the host school and home team for the super. After grinding out the first set win, they hit Carterville with eight straight points for a 9-1 advantage in the second set.
The margin got to 10 after a hitting error. Emrick briefly considered clearing the bench and allowing some reserves to finish it out.
“I thought about it, but I wanted to give them one more chance to grind it out and get back into it,” he said.
That one more chance resulted in an 11-1 run that tied the match. Now it was Nashville using timeouts to unsuccessfully stem the tide. The Hornettes still led 23-22, but consecutive kills by Sydney Stuck and a net violation decided the second game.
Before the third game, Emrick gave his team a piece of advice.
“He told us after we worked that hard to win the second game,” Howerton said, “we had to go ahead and win the match.”
Easier said than done against a proud opponent. Carterville established a 7-3 third game lead that Nashville immediately erased with five straight points. The match went back-and-forth from there, both student sections invested in every point.
The Hornettes led 20-18 when the Lions made their last push. Howerton started it with a block and an ace. Bella Mavigliano pounded down the last of her team-high 13 kills and Stuck added a kill for a 22-20 lead.
Carterville side-outed its way to a celebration from there.
“Different kids stepped up,” Emrick said. “We did a great job composing ourselves.”
Ally Lange added seven kills for the Lions. Howerton, Stuck, Eigenrauch and Maryn Vaughn each chipped in six.
Minutes after the tumult died down, Howerton considered the circumstances of her team’s comeback for the ages.
“We always talk about keeping the energy flat no matter what,” she said. “They weren’t going to roll over and give it to us because no one does that at this level, but it was do-able. Because of what we did, this win means that much more to me.”