BLUFFTON—After the roller coaster ride back and forth in the first four sets between South Adams and Churubusco, it was the Eagles' Alisha Farner whose serve will be in the Lady Stars' nightmares for the rest of the off-season.
In the deciding fifth set, Farner started Churubusco on a rally that saw them to a 9-0 lead behind four aces and a lot of SA miscues on service returns en route to a first-round sectional victory for the Eagles over South Adams 25-22, 24-26, 25-14, 21-25, 3-15.
After dropping into such a big hole, the Stars simply could not muster enough offense to mount a comeback against the Eagles. Had they cut the lead down in the fifth set it would have marked the third time in the match that the Stars came back from a nine-point deficit, a testament to how far first-year coach Amie Sprunger's team has come ending the year with a 5-26 mark.
"We did not look like the 5-26 team we are for four sets at least," noted coach Sprunger. "We played like at least a .500 team tonight making huge improvements tonight. I'm proud of how far we've come."
The Starfires improvement began less than a month ago when they played the ACAC co-champion Lady Jets to a five-set barn-burner, then gave the other co-champion Leo Lions a run in the first round of the conference tournament. Two wins in a row to end the season had the Starfires thinking upset in the sectional but several key mistakes and the Eagles' Farner serving lights out made the difference in the final game of the match.
The Stars came out hot in the first game leading 7-3 out of the gate and eventually 18-13, but a timeout by 'Busco got the Eagles back on track tying the game at 18-18 and then they took the lead at 20-19. The Stars would take their turn to talk things over and junior Alyssa Bluhm put her leader pants on.
With the score 21-21, Bluhm put the team on her back contributing on each of the final four points including a pair of blocks and two monster kills that gave SA the 25-22 set win.
In set two, Churubusco adjusted their strategy and kept Bluhm out of the equation with good passing and defense at the net.
"We were struggling in the front row," coach Sprunger noted. "Alyssa really had a lot of key kills for us but when she was in the back row we did not have a whole lot of options."
South Adams tied the match at 5-5, then lost a point that lasted more than a dozen exchanges back and forth between the teams that led to a Churubusco run using the momentum. The Lady Eagles led in the second set by as many as eight points at 22-14 when coach Sprunger had seen enough calling another timeout.
South Adams then went on an improbable 9-0 run to take a 23-22 edge behind the play of two sophomores: Cady Farlow who had four kills in the run and Mackenzie Jennings whose serve had the Eagles scrambling in the back court. 'Busco would snap out of their funk to tie the set at 24-24, then SA committed a penalty when a player started the next point with their foot out of bounds putting the Eagles on top by one. They would capitalize on the mistake with a point the next play to steal the second set 26-24.