Class 2A No. 9 Cloverdale's volleyball season was humming along nicely until they ran into Speedway on Sept. 22.
The Clovers suffered their first loss then but had the chance to make amends when they faced the Sparkplugs in the Covenant Christian sectional final Saturday night.
But just as Cloverdale had fallen to Speedway then, so too did it happen in Indianapolis, falling 25-20, 25-15 and 25-22.
Earlier in the day, the Clovers were engaged in a titanic five-set struggle with WCC foes Cascade, emerging as the winner after a 25-20, 16-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-13 match in the sectional semi-final.
"In the first game when we played them, we scored 103 points and they scored 102," Cloverdale head coach Kathy Moore said. "We knew what we were in for, so it wasn't a surprise for us that it was going to be close."
Speedway had earlier beaten hosts Covenant Christian in three sets, but the atmosphere surrounding that match paled to the one that the Clovers and Cadets formulated a half-hour later.
"Both teams stepped up right away," Moore said. "It was a duel all the way."
After trading off points for much of the first set, Cloverdale built up a 22-14 lead but watched as Cascade rattled off five straight points to cut the gap to 22-19.
The Clovers secured the set after breaking the Cadet serve, but fell off in the latter half of the second set as Cascade tied the match at a set apiece.
Cloverdale responded well in the third set and held a solid five point lead for most of the match, stretching it out to ten by the end of the set to put themselves within touching distance of the sectional final.
The Clovers took an early lead in the fourth set, but Cascade clawed back into the match and the two squads settled into a back and forth, point-for-point race.
The Cadets took their first lead of the set at 19-18 and managed to scrape by to a 25-22 win and set up a decisive fifth set, much as they had done at the beginning of the season.
Cloverdale came roaring out in the fifth set and built up an 11-4 lead that seemed to settle the matter.
Cascade, however, led an impressive rally and took the lead at 13-12. With the momentum behind them, an errant serve into the net gave the Clovers the opportunity to close the match out, which they did to advance to the sectional final.
Bradanne Toney led the squad with an impressive tally of 40 kills, 18 digs and five blocks in the five set thriller. Bristy Skiles compiled 47 assists while Paige Gruener added 14 digs, 10 points and five kills.
Taylor Jones had 15 digs and four kills with Lindsay Robson adding 18 digs and 11 points and Rebekah Jordan complied 14 points and six digs.
Moore, relieved after the win, said that the squad knew it was going to be a battle.
"Getting through this match was a big deal," Moore said. "We knew it meant everything to both teams. It's one-and-done so the pressure was on the kids.
"At this point in the season, it's so exciting. Most of the kids and myself didn't sleep because of the excitement."
Cloverdale drew a bye to the sectional semifinals.
"The hard part about getting the bye was waiting to play," Moore said. "It's nice to have the bye but going nine days without a match made us worry about being flat."
Facing Speedway four hours later, Cloverdale was unable to ride the momentum of their earlier win as the Sparkplugs powered past the Clovers in straight sets.
Behind the ferocious hitting of freshman Melanie McHenry, the Sparkplugs overcame an early first set deficit to 17-10 lead.
Cloverdale twice cut the gap to two but could not find a way past McHenry vicious hits and fell in the first set 25-20.
The two squads exchanged points early in the second set but, tied at 11-11, Speedway went on a 14-4 run to seal up the second set and put the Clover's season on the brink.
Cloverdale never was able to take the lead in the final set. Tied again at 11-11, Speedway tried to repeat the same feat as the second set, but after grabbing a 22-17 lead, the Clovers rallied to tie the set at 22-22.
McHenry was again too much for Cloverdale to stop as the Sparkplugs took the last three points to win the sectional and end the Clovers' season.
Toney again led the squad with 14 kills, six points, six digs and three aces. Skiles added 20 assists and five digs, while Gruener had six digs and three kills, Jones had six digs and five points, Jordan added six digs and six point and Robson chipped in four points and three digs.
Moore said that the squad played as best they could but couldn't find a way to counter the play of McHenry.
"I'm proud of the girls," Moore said. "I thought they gave it their best effort. McHenry had an 'on' night tonight and we just couldn't dig her.
"McHenry hit over the top of us and we didn't have an answer for that. Our outsides blockers were just shorter and that's where it was tonight."
More said the season has been an exciting ride.
"We've come back a lot, but we couldn't do that tonight," Moore said. "We had a great season with great fans, parents and support. I'm proud of these girls. They gave it their best shot and I can't ask for anything more than that."
Cloverdale finished the season as WCC and Putnam County champions with a record of 22-6.
"We're really proud of the seniors," Moore said. "We're proud of all the girls and the seniors have been good leaders this year."
At Covenant Christian High School
IHSAA Class 2A Sectional No. 44
Cascade 20 25 15 25 13
Cloverdale 25 16 25 22 15
Speedway 25 25 25
Cloverdale 20 15 22