SENECA —The Seneca Lady Irish matched Watseka point for point — literally — Thursday night, but their quest to end a 26-year sectional championship drought just missed.
Seneca lost 25-23, 19-25, 25-21 to Watseka in the championship match of its own Class 2A girls volleyball sectional in front of a large and loud crowd. In the games it lost, Seneca had leads of 23-20 and 21-18, but the Warriors ended the games with four- and six-point service runs.
"We came so close to making so many aggressive plays," Seneca coach Karen Raney said. "A few inches here and a few inches there — those are two-point swings, and this was the kind of match were two points was just huge. ... But we can hold our heads high after this one."
A Nicole Pihl sideout kill gave the Lady Irish that 21-18 lead in the third game, but Watseka sophomore outside Taylor Bauer counters with a kill to restore the lead to the Warriors. Another sophomore, Emily Allhands, served out from there, with three Bauer kills (her 12th, 13th and 14th of the night), two Seneca hitting errors and a kill from Allhands herself keeping the run alive.
During the third game, the Lady Irish led 4-0 behind four Madison Wyss points, fell behind 5-4, 8-6 and 11-7 and took a 15-12 lead on a four-point Kayla Haines service run. They never trailed again until the Allhands' match-ending serve.
"It was just so emotionally charged, and it seemed like every time we went up by a few points, they came right back and vice versa," Pihl said.
Just like the third game, the first started with a four-point run by Wyss at the service line. She finished the match with 12 points, 10 aces and 21 assists.
"I was able to get some good practice in on my serves before the beginning of the first game, and that helped me a lot," Wyss said. "It means a lot (to have a playing time increase late in the season). I've worked hard, and it's an amazing moment to be able to contribute in a game like this as a sophomore setter."
Just like in the third game, Watseka rallied to take the lead in the middle before Seneca went ahead late. In Game 1, the second of two Haines points made it 23-20 Seneca, but Bauer had a sideout kill and served up four consecutive points, with Allison Kaper providing a block on the final one.
The Lady Irish got off to an even better start in the second game, with junior outside Danielle Hauch cranking off nine consecutive service points for a 10-0 lead.
Though Watseka grew closer as the game progressed, getting its deficit down to 23-19 on a fourth straight Kat Grimes point, Haines closed it out with a sideout kill and the winning service point, on which she assisted Hauch.
"In warm-ups, I was feeling it," Haines said after leading the Lady Irish with 10 kills while making just one errant hit. "We knew they were going to key on Aspen (Stuedemann) and it would be up to us other hitters to step up, and I felt like we did."
Seneca bows out at 27-9-3, but not before winning its first regional since 2004 last week at Amboy.
"This is the way I wanted my senior year to end," Pihl said. "I'm never going to play volleyball again, and while it's hard to say that right now, to win a regional and then come this close to winning a sectional — I'm so proud of this team. We've come so far since the beginning of this season."