By Brian Paglia
In the immediate aftermath of Eagle's Landing Christian's compelling five-game loss to Holy Innocents in the Class AA/A quarterfinals Saturday, coach Jim Barlow had few complaints about the Lady Chargers' performance.
Barlow felt ELCA hit well and executed on offense, but Holy Innocent was close to flawless.
"They were making great digs," Barlow said. "We were hitting the ball. They just made a ton of great digs, didn't make any mistakes and played really close to their potential. We played OK.
"I wasn't disappointed with them. We've certainly played better, but we've played worse than that, too."
Rarely did ELCA (32-12) fail to live up to its lofty standards this season. The Lady Chargers were ranked No. 3 in Class AA/A going into the state tournament; went a perfect 4-0 in Area 3S-AA/A and won their second straight area championship; won 11 matches against teams ranked in their respective classifications; and made the semifinals of the prestigious Blockout Party tournament.
With a Division I hitter (senior Lauren Teknipp) and their deepest collection of talent yet, the Lady Chargers seemed to have the look of a team capable of advancing beyond last season's quarterfinals appearance.
The Lady Chargers had seen Holy Innocents before. ELCA had won the previous two meetings, including a 25-21, 25-14 victory on September 23. Many players on both teams knew each other from club volleyball. ELCA had reason to feel confident going into the match.
Instead, after winning the third game 25-20 to go up 2-1, Holy Innocents responded, winning the final two games to complete a 26-28, 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 15-13 victory over ELCA.
"It was disappointing," Barlow said. "We planned on going further and felt like we had a shot to win. The next two rounds would've been anybody's game."
The hangover from the loss hasn't gone away yet for Barlow, if only because this season was unique. ELCA had elite talent, played in compelling matches against some of the state's top programs and held its own.
"This was one of the funnest, if not my funnest, season," Barlow said. "We got to play a ton of good ball. We played a ton of good teams. It was just very enjoyable, because we were playing at such a high level all year long."
Indeed, ELCA reached that level in part because of the addition of Teknipp last season. The 6-foot-2 hitter moved from Ohio and immediately bolstered the Lady Chargers' offense. Barlow said Teknipp, who has verbally committed to play volleyball at Michigan, developed into the state's top hitter by her senior season.
Replacing Teknipp won't be easy, nor will replacing the loss of seniors Emily White and Rachel Loudermilk.
"That'll be difficult," Barlow said.
But the Lady Chargers will return some elite talent in 6-foot-1 middle hitter Mara Green, libero Melissa Liston, setter Kodie Patterson and outside hitter Rachel Tolleson. Barlow said he expects a few softball players to return to the team next season, and several promising players on junior varsity will move up.
"I think we'll have the same goal next year," Barlow said. "We'll be a different team, but we'll have a number of good players and we should be good. I'm looking forward to it."