STEUBENVILLE - There was a time not so long ago when an OVAC crown was simply a dream for the River High School volleyball program.
Ah, how times have changed.
Four years removed from a 1-19 campaign, the Pilots are OVAC 2A champions, thanks to a 25-9, 25-23 victory against Bridgeport on Saturday night inside The Crimson Center.
River volleyball players celebrate the match winning point Saturday night.
''To come from there to this is unbelievable,'' River head coach Jim Turner said following the conclusion of the OVAC Volleyball Tournament.
''This is something we talked about all through the season.''
Saturday marked River's first appearance in the tournament in 25 years and the Pilots made the most of it, jumping out strong on the regular-season champions in the first game and then coming through when it counted late.
''(The team) did a great job when things weren't going well and they fought through it,'' Turner said. ''Great, great job. Great bunch of kids ...hard workers.''
The Pilots certainly brought their lunchpails Saturday night and the foreman of the group - Jensen Caretti - sealed the deal with a flurry of points in the latter moments of the second game.
''She is tremendous,'' Turner said. ''She's a tremendous talent and she has a bunch of great players with her. This is definitely a team victory.''
Caretti finished with 18 kills and 12 digs. MacKenzie Wade had 16 points and 12 digs. Amanda Bennett added 11 points and Monica Curtis added 23 assists and 10 digs. Curtis, MacKenzie Marshall and Brissa Marshall all scored six points.
The Pilots showed just how deep their talent well flowed when they played the title match without Brielle Williams, who was injured in the semifinal victory against Clay-Battelle.
Brissa Marshall and Tiffany Conners took her place.
''They stepped in and they really stepped up,'' Turner said. ''They key for us was really playing as a team.''
River (13-8) had little trouble with the Bulldogs in the first game, but struggled in the second.
With the two squads tied at 3-3, Caretti started the Pilots on a 2-0 run and, from there, River maintained a slight advantage.
Then, near the midway point of the match, Bridgeport rallied to knot things at 16-16. From there, the game see-sawed and the Bulldogs eventually took their first lead of the match at 19-18.
River later tied the match and went ahead 23-21 on a Caretti point.
Bridgeport tied things at 23-23 before Caretti powered the Pilots down the stretch.
Briana Massey scored five points for the Bulldogs (15-8), while Alyssa Cook had 16 assists and Maclaine Murad had 10 digs.
''We just made some critical mistakes at some wrong times,'' Bridgeport head coach Ron Kelly said. ''That big girl over there (Caretti) played really well.''
Bridgeport and River both open Division IV sectional tournament play Tuesday night at Barnesville. The Bulldogs face St. John at 5:30 p.m., while the Pilots take on Frontier in the evening's second match.
Frontier d. Clay-Battelle
22-25, 25-20, 25-17
Corisa Fickiesen had 11 points and 13 kills as Frontier topped Clay-Battelle.
Emily Hinton added 27 assists for the Cougars.
River d. Clay-Battelle
MacKenzie Marshall had 13 points and 16 digs and Wade scored 10 points as River took care of Clay-Battelle in quick fashion in Steubenville High's Joseph Stern Gymnasium.
Curtis added 15 assists and 14 digs for the Pilots and Caretti had 14 kills and nine digs.
Bridgeport d. Frontier
Massey had 16 points in Bridgeport's victory against Frontier.
Murad added 15 digs for the Bulldogs, while Cheyenne Flowers scored eight points and Cook had nine assists.