After winning their first sectional championship since 2000 in straight sets, the tables turned on Manchester in the district semi-finals as the Lady Hounds were dispatched in straight sets by the Eastern Meigs Lady Eagles.
It was a total two-man attack for Manchester as senior Morgan Johnson had 14 kills and senior Cassidy Spires had nine. Fellow senior Kayla Wagoner was the only other MHS player to even register a kill on the evening, totaling two.
“[We] worked hard, we were hustling, there was just no offense tonight,” Manchester head coach Tabitha Spires said. “The sets weren’t great but also the passes weren’t there and you’ve got to have good passes to get good sets.”
Manchester kept things close for the majority of the first set, trailing only 12-10 at one point after trading the lead back and forth early, but multiple offensive errors by the Lady Hounds made it easier for the Eagles to capitalize.
A 12-10 deficit quickly turned into 19-12 after a mishit by freshman Abby McFarland. A rally by MHS put some pressure on Eastern, but in the end Manchester fell in the first set, 25-20.
What was a relatively close first set was anything but in the second when Eastern jumped out to an 5-2 lead, forcing Coach Spires to call an early timeout. That lead swelled to 8-2 after a dig by Cassidy Spires fell to nobody, giving the Eagles an easy point.
Things only got worse from there as an 11-6 Lady Eagle’s lead turned into 17-6 before the Lady Hounds could finally put a stop to the bleeding. But miscommunication and frustration remained issues when Johnson allowed a serve to go over her head thinking Cassidy Spires was going to take it, when Spires believed the opposite. More issues for Johnson were on display as she spiked the ball into the net, was called for a double-hit violation and wasn’t able to handle a set from senior Summer Wilbur which ended the second set, 25-11.
“I think this was an off game and this was the wrong time to have an off game,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t hit to save my life. I think they were double blocking me and that kind of bothered me and I think it intimidated me a little bit.”
The third set didn’t go smoothly for the Lady Hounds either as the Eagles quickly jumped out to a 6-2 lead after an ace by Eastern had the Manchester mascot banging his head on a handrail behind the Manchester bench in frustration.
Manchester was able to battle back initially, forcing Eastern to use a timeout after a kill by Spires cut the Eagle lead to 10-8, but Eastern came out firing on all cylinders afterwards going on an 8-3 run to push the lead to 18-11.
MHS made one last push to make a game of it with a kill from Johnson, an ace by Wilbur and a long kill that landed out by an Eastern player made it 18-14, but the fat lady began clearing her throat shorty after as the Eagles pulled away for a 25-16 win in the third set.
For many of the Manchester seniors, the finality of their high-school volleyball careers ending hit them hard, and tissues were abundant.
“It’s devastating,” Johnson said. “It just stinks because this is my last year.”
“It’s honestly really hard because this is my last game and I’ve played since I was in seventh grade,” senior McKayla Smith said. “It’s just hard when everything is coming to and end and it’s your last everything. I can’t believe my senior season is over now. Ever since seventh grade it was always, ‘Oh, well you’ve got next year.’ and now there’s no next year.”
Still, while the happy thoughts were difficult to find in the wake of the loss, the team had a sense of pride regarding their sectional win, the program’s first since 2000. Manchester ended the season with a record of 19-5 and a conference record of 11-2, good enough for second-place in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference.
“We had a great season,” Wagoner said. “Coach told us that we had a great season, but we just weren’t on our A-game here.”
Reach Charles Grove at 937-544-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.