Times Sports Editor
CLAY CITY -- Clay City has experienced volleyball heartbreak in the sectional before, but on Saturday night, the Eels washed all of those bitter memories away with tears of joy.
The Eels came through with an emotional, four-game championship match victory over rival Shakamak to earn the school's first sectional title in volleyball, 20-25, 25-11, 25-19, 25-15.
Just one year ago, Clay City reached the title game and led two games to none over North Central (Farmersburg) before the Thunderbirds rallied to win the next three games and with it, the 2010 championship. There was no such dismay for seniors Meeghan Riggs, Asie Jeffers and Brielle Drelick as Clay City came back after losing the first set to the Lakers, to win the final three and begin a celebration with their large fanbase.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had," Riggs said with tears of joy in her eyes. "I'm going to cherish it every moment. I'm just so happy. I'm so glad we could do this together. We've all played since we were really little so it's an amazing feeling.
"This is the most support that we've ever had," Riggs said of the huge Clay City fan section. "We've loved every minute of it and thanks to everyone who came out."
Drelick, who was a leader on the Clay City girls' basketball team when it won the school's first title two years ago, was equally emotional over a volleyball title.
"We've been playing on varsity since our freshmen year. The first year we lost in the first round and the past two years we've lost in the championship game. It was about time," Drelick said. "We had on our sectional shirt, 'It's our time,' we knew from the get go, this group, was a different group, we don't give up. Playing against our rival in the championship game, there is nothing better."
Drelick admitted that the first game was a tough loss.
"I thought for a second, 'this could go either way,' Drelick admitted after the first game loss. "Knowing our history, I hate to say it, but this is a different team. I knew we were not going to give up."
The second game was a much different story however, as Clay City limited Crane's touches and used a pivotal six-point run to break out to a 12-3 lead. Drelick had two aces and a kill with Halli Brewer adding one of her four blocks. Riggs added a tip as the Eels took control.
Callie Dayhuff cemented the game two win as she served up eight straight points with a pair of aces and freshman Emmie Kittle added a tip for a 22-9 advantage. Clay City coach Lu Anne Anderson was quick to acknowledge her freshman setter, who added 29 assists to go with five digs.
"Emmie Kittle, a freshman setter, I don't know too many freshman setters that could do as good a job as she has done this year. She handled it well and kept her emotions and she was great," Anderson said.
Shakamak regained their composure in game three as Kelsey Fulford had a block and Crane followed with an ace to take a 7-6 lead. The Eels rebounded late in the game as Jeffers had a successful tip at the net as part of a 10-kill game. Riggs served up an ace and Drelick added a kill in a pivotal point as Clay City gained traction at 16-13.
The final set of the night was close at 12-9 after a tip by Jeffers, but the Eels would finish strong.
With the game tied at 14, Chloe Kittle put way a point after Drelick had two big blocks off kill attempts as Clay City gained an advantage they wouldn't lose.
Drelick mashed a kill off a block attempt from Crane, then added a block. Jeffers served up an ace and Brewer would end the match with a kill that sent the team and their fans into celebration mode.
"It feels great," Anderson said of the title. "It's been a monkey on our back for I don't know how long. The emotions, I can't even describe right now. I'm so happy for the girls. I'm happy for the Clay City volleyball program and no one can say we choke every championship game. We came through in the end and I'm so proud of these girls. These seniors have been leaders for us all year and you can tell, it showed on the floor."
Drelick isn't planning on closing the trophy case just yet either.
"This is my third sectional and we're going to win another basketball sectional, you know that," Drelick said with a grin. "That would be four (sectional titles) and not many people can say that, I'm truly blessed."
Anderson, in her third-year as a coach of the Eels, was understandably thrilled with the accomplishment as Clay City improved to 18-10 overall.
"It means a lot to me," Anderson said of winning the program's first sectional title. "After losing in 2006 and last year, we just had to get this done. We started back in March with off-season workouts and then into summer with open gyms and then we've worked every day."
The Eels advance to Tuesday's regional and will host the winner of the sectional final between University and the Indiana School for the Deaf at 7 p.m.
Class A Clay City Sectional
Next match: Clay City (18-10 overall) advances to the Clay City Regional on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Shakamak finishes its season at 8-18.