PLEASANT PLAINS — It was a statement win, without a doubt.
St. Teresa volleyball battled Downs Tri-Valley Wednesday at the Class 2A Pleasant Plains sectional final and came away with a commanding 25-11, 25-16 victory.
Behind the serve of junior Caleigh Craft, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set and never looked back. The Vikings never threatened in the first set and tied the second set 1-1 before Craft led the Bulldogs to another commanding 7-1 lead.
“In the first set, I felt like we were ready. All this week we have talked about what to expect with playing Sacred Heart-Griffin and Quincy Notre Dame and now Tri-Valley and we decided to come out and be focused,” outside hitter Abby Robinson said. “Coming out with that first set the way we did — it was another key moment for this team.”
Just as they did on Monday in the sectional semifinals against QND, the Bulldogs never allowed Tri-Valley to run their offense and the Vikings were never able to score more than four consecutive points.
“We are on all cylinders right now and we put a lot of pressure on teams. When they are worried about trying to stop us, it gets them out of their comfort zone and they aren’t thinking about how to attack us,” St. Teresa coach Brad Dalton said. “That’s where you want to be.”
The Vikings came out stiff to the Bulldogs' (34-5) attack.
“They came out fast and furious and didn’t let up. They were firing on all cylinders and we couldn’t find a way to slow them down,” Tri-Valley coach Jamie Ward said. “They passed well and serve received and were able to run their offense well and they were scrappy and dug up a lot of balls. Credit to them.”
The Vikings finish the season 36-3 and were the No. 8-ranked team in Class 2A, according to MaxPreps.com.
“I’m just proud of the season that this team had had,” Ward said. “We didn’t have our best match tonight and we came up against a better team tonight. I’m proud of my seniors (libero Regan Danko, middle hitter Kendall Peck, outside hitter Summer Sheley and defensive specialist Sarah Bollibero) and the leadership that they displayed all season."
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It is the second consecutive sectional title and the sixth in program history. St. Teresa last won back-to-back sectional titles in 2013 when it won its fourth of four straight.
The Bulldogs now move on to play Orion in at the Class 2A Farmington Super-sectionals at 7 p.m. Friday at Farmington High School. Orion defeated El Paso-Gridley 27-25, 25-14 in the Spring Valley Hall sectional final.
As Robinson was serving for the sectional title, she took everything in.
“It was nerve racking. You hear all the noise in the gym and you think ‘I have to get it in, I have to get it in’ but serving it in was great and serving the last point was amazing," she said.
The two teams met Sept. 10 with the Vikings beating St. Teresa 25-22, 25-21 at home. In that first matchup, the Bulldogs were without setter Lexie Huck who was out with an injury.
“Volleyball is a crazy game. That first match was at home and we played with a lot of enthusiasm when we were at home and we had a strong student section and the girls got really excited to play,” Ward said. “We played a little tight and I think the nerves got the best of us early on tonight and they capitalized on that and came out on top.”
For St. Teresa senior Cami Lobb, comparing the Bulldogs tonight with the team from the first Tri-Valley game is like night and day.
“Lexie had an ankle injury and so we were playing with a new system with new people and we weren’t used to it. It didn’t work for us,” she said. “Right now, we were all working together.
“We have really clicked and it feels like we are unstoppable now.”