STEUBENVILLE - For the past three seasons Shenandoah has advanced to the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference volleyball tournament only to leave with disappointment and frustration.
That all changed Saturday morning as Coach Shannon Leasure's Zeps rolled past defending Class AAA champion Tyler Consolidated in the semifinals before holding off Guernsey County rival Buckeye Trail in the championship match at Steubenville High School.
Shenandoah watched Trail win the first set, 25-20, before taking the second by a 25-21 margin and rallying late to win the third, 26-24, and hoist the trophy after a classic three-set victory against the youthful Warriors.
The top-seeded Zeps advanced to the championship match by breezing past the Silver Knights, 25-18, 25-14 while Buckeye Trail (17-5) was busy holding off Magnolia, 24-26, 25-22, 25-23. Tyler Consolidated (22-5) dominated the Blue Eagles (15-5), 25-15, 25-12 in the consolation match.
After dropping its first set of the season to the Warriors, and facing elimination, Shenandoah bounced back with a 25-21 victory to set up the deciding showdown in the final set. The Zeps led most of the way in the finale, even going up by six points, 19-13, at one juncture only to watch Buckeye Trail battled back and take a 21-20 lead. The Warriors eventually pushed the count to 24-22 and were on the brink of bringing home the title before Shenandoah zipped off the final four points for the victory.
"I am so glad we came out on top of this one," a smiling Leasure said. "We have won three PVC championships in a row and been here the last three years only to come up short. The girls really stepped up and I am just very proud of them.
Jeff Beros, meanwhile, echoed Leasure's thoughts on his squad.
"Games like this are why you play spring and summer games to get ready for," the Trail coach said. "We had our chances, but overall the good news is that we had more positive plays than not so great ones. We didn't win a set against them in our regular-season games, but I think (Saturday) was a real tribute to this team."
Things looked like they were going to go Magnolia's way early, however, that quickly changed and Coach Pam Chapman's squad found themselves not only losing in the semifinals, but also to arch-rival Tyler Consolidated in the consolation game.
Down by seven points to Trail in the first set of their semifinals, Big Blue scored the final eight points, seven off the serve of freshman Kelsi Chapman and strong net play from junior Kiera Standiford to capture a hard-fought 26-24 victory.
But the Warriors turned the tables in the second set, trailing for much of the set and looking like they might be headed for the consolation match themselves, Beros' crew rallied to advance. Trail's first lead of the set came at 18-17 and they never trailed again, in either of the final two matches.
Facing an upset Tyler Consolidated team, who had come to defend its title only to lose in the semifinals, Magnolia was never able to regain its composure and watched the Silver Knights sweep them away.
"I really believe the Trail game took a lot out of us," Pam Chapman said. "It was a hard-fought game and we expended a lot of energy and it was just so hard to bounce back. When they got the tables turned on us we lost all of our momentum."
It also wasn't the result Coach Richard Summers was looking for, however, the Tyler Consolidated mentor knows there is still plenty of volleyball to play.
"We still have a lot of goals," Summers said. "We won this last year and had hoped to defend it, but Shenandoah has a very good team and we were just out of sync most of the match."