The volleyball season didn't end the way Buckeye Local had hoped Monday evening on St. Clairsville's John Jenkins Court.
Despite falling in three games to a strong Meadowbrook squad as the two squads opened Division II sectional tournament action, the program took numerous steps in the right direction.
The Lady Colts advanced to meet arch-rival Cambridge on Wednesday after handing the Lady Panthers a 25-7, 25-11 and 25-13 setback.
"This (season) is a huge improvement for us," said Buckeye Local head coach Shelby Luther about her team finishing with a 8-13 record. "This is my fourth season and I am proud of these seniors, who've been with me the entire way, and they continued to believe and have now inspired the younger girls to believe."
The Lady Panthers were up against a tall task in a Lady Colts' squad, which advanced to the OVAC 4A title match last Saturday before falling to East Liverpool.
"We knew we were coming up against a tough opponent," Luther said. "Meadowbrook is always a strong team, and we didn't play our cleanest or most aggressive game. If we had been a cleaner passing team, it might have been a closer game, but we didn't play well."
The Lady Colts (17-6) got out of the gates quickly, scoring the first seven points in the match and never looked back.
"We played okay, but I think we have a lot of work to do before Wednesday," said Meadowbrook head coach Kelly Zehnder. "We have a lot of things to go over before we play Cambridge. This is only the second time we've played them and they beat us in three close games, so we'll see how it goes."
The Lady Colts received a strong game from Marri DeLong, who had four digs, three aces and two blocks. Sarah Stein was charted for six digs.
Lane Browning had three aces and seven kills, while Bria Graham had 20 assists. Chasity Rooker had 13 kills. Karli Tellup chipped in with six kills and four blocks.
"It was nice that we were able to get everyone into the game," Zehnder said. "We got everyone some tournament experience and we worked on some things."
Buckeye Local, which never led by more than one point in any given game, was led by Kaylee DeCesare, who had 10 digs, five assists and three points. Morgan Staten chipped in with five kills and seven digs. Becca Rector donated four kills, three assists, four digs and two points.
"It's hard for our seniors when they wanted to keep pushing, but it was great to see these girls keep fighting in the third set even though we were down," Luther said. "They had their heads up and believed up until the last point, which is exciting to see and makes us excited about our future."
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org