Being down 2-0 in Thursday’s Division IV district championship vs. Firelands Conference rival St. Paul, it was a familiar position for the Monroeville volleyball team.
The Eagles had lost to the Lady Flyers in the district championship in 2009 and 2011 and suffered 19 losses in 20 tries to St. Paul in FC play in the past nine seasons.
Many times, the Eagle players didn’t believe and through two games Thursday, their head coach knew it.
That all ended at Willard High School, as the Eagles rallied to win three straight games and the district title, 23-25, 22-25, 27-25, 25-19, 15-10. It is the first district championship in any girls sport at Monroeville.
The Eagles — ranked No. 12 in the final state coaches poll — improved to 22-3 overall, while St. Paul (No. 5) finished 20-5.
Monroeville plays No. 2 McComb (26-0) in Thursday’s 6 p.m. regional semifinal at Elida High School.
“Being down 2-0 in a district final, that’s hard to come back from against anyone, let alone St. Paul,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. “But this is the first time we played them, that even though we lost those first two games, we were right there within a couple points.
“I told them after the first two games, you guys believe you can play with them, but you don’t believe you can win,” Snook added. “We had great community support here, and they believed in the kids, and finally the kids believed in themselves.”
After holding off two Monroeville comebacks in the first two games, St. Paul trailed 13-8 in Game 3, but came all the way back to take an 18-17 lead off a kill by Bridget Ott.
The two teams continued to go back and forth, then an Emily Chandler kill gave St. Paul a 24-23 lead and a chance to serve match point and finish the sweep.
But Monroeville staved off the elimination and tied it at 24, only to have a hit sail out of bounds and again trail 25-24.
With the season again at stake, Monroeville rallied to tie it at 25, then took a 26-25 lead on a ace by Haley Kramer. The Eagles forced a Game 4 after a block from two St. Paul hitters sailed out of bounds.
“We lost all momentum. I felt like we even did after Game 2,” St. Paul coach Nancy Miller said. “We were there yet at the end of Game 3, but we weren’t in the attack mode that we were in to start the match.”
From that point forward, Monroeville was.
The Eagles had another 13-9 lead in Game 4, but didn’t let it slip away, as they scored five of the last seven points in a 25-19 win to force the decisive fifth game.
Monroeville took a 3-2 lead in Game 5 after St. Paul misfired and hit a ball into the net. The Eagles never trailed again. Breanna Kramer came up with a big block at the net, and Quinn Schafer served up an ace and Monroeville was off and running with a 6-2 lead.
“I thought maybe the senior mode would kick in a little bit, but it just seemed like we couldn’t get off to a start in Game 5,” Miller said.
St. Paul managed to pull within 10-8 on an ace by Elise Nickoli and were still serving, which prompted a timeout by Snook.
The Eagles then got back on track, scoring three straight points to go up 13-8, and finished off the historic win moments later.
“It’s hard to come back from that, so when you do it, it feels amazing,” Breanna Kramer said. “It’s difficult, but we try not to let anything around us get to us and focus on the next point, not what happened before.”
Kramer finished with 20 kills, four blocks and 33 digs, while twin sister Haley added 18 kills and 10 blocks.
Schafer was 161-of-161 setting with 50 assists. She also finished 19-of-20 serving with three aces and added 12 digs.
Samantha Reer was 26-of-26 serving and had 27 digs, while Cheyanna Littlejohn was 16-of-17 serving with three aces and added five kills and two blocks.
Paige Leitz posted 10 kills and five blocks.
Victoria Smith led the defense with 27 digs and Maddie Bollenbacher contributed 18.
“Once we got the kids refocused, our block was able to shut them down a little bit, and our defense picked it up,” Snook said. “All of the sudden we were playing just as good of defense as they do, because they are a very, very good defensive team.”
For St. Paul, Ott had 17 kills and 25 digs.
Bella Stoll had 12 kills and Lindsey Llewellyn added 11.
Nickoli was 20-of-21 serving with 10 points and two aces. She led the team with 41 digs. Roni Easler added 48 assists.
Kaeleigh Stang was 26-of-26 with 14 points and an ace and Sydney Moore pitched in 19-of-20 with 11 points and an ace.
Miller reflected on the season for the Lady Flyers.
“We had a great season, because initially I don’t think we were picked to be where we were to start with,” Miller said. “I think these seniors were exceptional from Day 1, all the way through. They were unselfish and our success throughout the season was attributed a lot to these seniors.”