Watseka volleyball beats Seneca in sectional semifinal

EL PASO – For the Seneca volleyball team, it was trying to avoid a repeat at the hands of Watseka.

After losing to the Warriors for the Seneca Class 2A Sectional championship a year ago, the two teams squared off again in sectional play Thursday – this time at the Class 2A El-Paso-Gridley Sectional semifinal.

It wasn’t meant to be for the Lady Irish as the Warriors won, 25-22, 27-25.

Things did not start off well for the Irish. Seneca coach Karen Raney called a timeout early on with her team trailing 9-5. Watseka had pulled ahead behind three early kills by Taylor Bauer.

“At the start it felt like we had too many nerves and came out and played scared,” Seneca senior Kayla Haines said. “We just weren’t confident enough. We wanted revenge on this team so much that I think it made us nervous.”

Raney said that fact was certainly at the forefront of her team’s mind.

“This team had a great season. Setting the school record for wins in a season,” Raney said. “But that was just a small egg in their basket. They wanted to be in the sectional championship.”

Seneca did stop the momentum with that timeout but, even with an early illegal back row hit by Watseka, the Warriors held the lead.

That is until Madison Wyss stepped to the service line to cut the gap to 11-10.

After a sideout and a lift call on Watseka, a big block kill by Hayley Gray swung the momentum back in the Warriors favor. A kill by Lexi Shoemaker and a long hit made it 15-11.

Seneca did get within 15-14 behind the service of Jessica Club, but a kill by Bauer and a miss hit made it 17-14.

Seneca would then trail 20-19 with Wyss serving when Bauer got another key kill, forcing Raney to call a timeout.

A kill by Taylor Vandenberg got the serve back and a kill by Danielle Hauch tied it up at 21-all.

Michaela Coughlin broke that up with a kill, but a long hit tied things again at 22.

From there it was all Watseka as the first game ended with an out of bounds hit, a kill by Bauer and a miss hit to make it 25-22.

Seneca came out strong at the start of the second game and led 4-1 and then 7-3 before Warriors coach Krista Pufahl called a timeout.

A controversial dig call went in favor of Watska, but the Irish shrugged it off and stayed in charge. Their lead eventually built to 11-4 before a tip kill by Coughlin stopped the run.

Seneca managed to keep the lead and had it up to 15-9 and 16-10. Watseka would cut the lead on the service of Bauer to 16-12. A kill by Hauch then got the serve back. Seneca moved out to a 19-12 lead, forcing a timeout by Pufahl.

It worked.

Watseka got to within 19-15 before Kayla Haines got the ball back for Seneca with an over the head push kill. Still the Warriors were in full charge at that point getting two kills by Shoemaker and one from Gray to get within 20-19.

That led to Raney’s last timeout.

Seneca got the ball back on a hit out of bounds, but Shoemaker answered it with another kill.

Lexi Wilkinson got a key kill to get the ball back for Seneca and the Irish was on the brink of sending it to a third game at 24-21.

However, Watseka came all the way back on the serve of Maddie Pfingston and the game was tied at 25.

After a communication error, Bauer served out the win and Watseka won, 27-25.

“Watseka has a very explosive offense,” Raney said. “Combined with their blocking scheme, it’s been a long time since we’ve faced a team like that at the net.”

For the Irish, Taylor Vandenberg had six kills and 16 digs while Haines had 11 assists and Jessica Clubb nine points.

Seneca finishes the season 29-8-1.