Despite frustrating finish, LCS girls enjoyed a great run Chemistry, drive paced Lady Eagles to a 21-2 record
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Everything seemed to be lined up perfectly for the Lititz Christian girls volleyball team.
Their opponent in the District Three Single-A playoffs — Conestoga Christian — was a team they had defeated three times earlier.
Powerhouse teams Holy Name and Reading Central Catholic were nowhere to be found, having merged as one and become a Double-A force competing as Berks Catholic.
"We were hoping this was going to be our year that we were going to be able to win Districts," Lititz Christian coach Denise Kennedy said. "(Holy Name and Reading Central Catholic) were great, but when those two teams merged, I think just about every single team in Single-A thought, ‘OK, everyone’s got a shot at it this year.’ There was nobody crying in Single-A when they left."
Unfortunately for the Lady Eagles, their dreams were dashed with a 3-2 loss to the Cougars in the Final Four of the District Three playoffs at Central York on Saturday, Nov. 5.
The timing was particularly painful for the three-time reigning CCAC champion Lititz Christian girls (21-2), as it was the first time in three years that they lost to Conestoga Christian. Halifax eventually defeated the Lady Cougars 3-1 to claim the District crown.
"We beat them three times during the season, so it was kind of a frustrating loss in a lot of ways," Kennedy said.
Frustration was certainly a valid term to describe the Lady Eagles’ emotions after they dropped the first two games to Conestoga by scores of 25-17, 25-23.
According to Kennedy, her squad simply wasn’t running its offense like they were accustomed to doing.
"It wasn’t like our passing was atrocious off of serves — they weren’t even hard serves," Kennedy remarked. "And we’ve got a good passing team. So I don’t know if it was just nerves or we weren’t relaxed enough. I’m not sure. (The players) couldn’t really answer it either — that was the problem … We just didn’t have our act together."
Finally, in the next two games, Lititz Christian did get its act together and the Lady Eagles pulled even with back-to-back 25-16, 25-23 decisions. Outside hitter Rachel Elsner, one of seven seniors on the team, had a big night at the net with 17 kills. Seniors Lauran Anspach and Elyse Brooks chipped in with four aces and four blocks, respectively.
"I just said to them after the second game, ‘Are you guys ready go home?,’" Kennedy said. "’You guys are better than this and you know it. You didn’t come this far to lose in three games. It’s time for you to step up.’ And it was just like, all of a sudden, they (said), ‘You know what? You’re right.’ The lights turned on, and all of a sudden, we were running our offense. They just really came alive and got fired up. They are a team of emotions and I don’t know if they just really needed to get really, really fired up."
It all came down to a decisive fifth game to determine who would move on to face Halifax for all the District marbles. The Lady Eagles got out of the gates in solid shape and took the early lead, but Conestoga — led by middle hitter Brooke Miller — had other ideas and prevailed 15-12.
"We tended to be a team of little mini-runs," Kennedy said, "and then we lose a little bit and (then) we get our mini-runs. Had we gone to 25 points, I think it would have been a different story. But it was a 15-point game and we knew it was a 15-point game, so we couldn’t afford to lose focus and unfortunately, we did.We lost focus at a really crucial time and that was our fault."
The loss in the District semis, however, didn’t change the fact that Lititz Christian had a tremendous season. In fact, the Lady Eagles steamrolled through the league season, losing just one game along the way — to Conestoga. They were 21-0 before suffering their first loss, falling two games to one to Halifax in their final match of District quarterfinal pool play.
"I would have liked to have met (Halifax) again because they were our last match of the night and we were really tired," Kennedy said. "I didn’t feel like we played our best against them, so I would have liked to have met them again. But it didn’t happen."
Kennedy credited two main reasons for their success this fall. One was the squad’s chemistry and team leadership. In addition to Anspach, Brooks and Elsner, the other seniors included Madelyn Bernhardt, Maci Hurst, Laura Jackson and Rachel Jordan.
"The biggest thing was we didn’t have a team of individuals," Kennedy remarked. "It really was a team effort. We didn’t focus on individual play. The girls really focused on the team, and if one player was having a bad game, she didn’t let that bother her. They always put the team first, especially my captains. Madelyn Bernhardt, Rachel Elsner and Lauran Anspach were my three captains and they were always putting the team first."
The Lady Eagles’ drive to win was another thing that pushed this team to great heights. On many nights, Lititz Christian seemed to have six player-coaches between the white lines.
"They refused to lose," Kennedy said. "If they’d get down, they called a timeout themselves and they’d get in a huddle and say, ‘This is ridiculous.’ They were saying what I wanted to say before I could even say it … They had a really competitive spirit. It wasn’t just in one player. That was the thing. (Sometimes) you get a team where you might have one or two players that are really competitive, but the rest of the team is like, ‘I don’t really care. I’m just here for the uniform or because my friends are playing.’ But the whole team, they were all very competitive and they pushed each other."
At season’s end, Elsner was named First-Team All-District, while Anspach, Bernhardt and Hurst earned Second-Team honors. More LADY EAGLES, page B-3