OLD WASHINGTON - Those associated with the River High School volleyball program might still be stinging a bit today, but when they look back at the season as a whole it's sure to bring back great memories.
That's the outlook Pilots head coach Jim Turner has after his squad fell to powerful Tuscarawas Central Catholic 25-17, 25-14, 25-17 in a Division IV district semifinal Tuesday evening inside Buckeye Trail High School.
The New Philadelphia-based Saints, who played in three consecutive state tournaments from 2009-11, will return to the ''Home of the Warriors'' at 6 p.m. Thursday night to face Shenandoah. The Zeps, the OVAC Class 3A champs, upended Hiland 27-25, 25-21, 26-24 in the nightcap.
RIVER’S Amanda Bennett returns a shot during Tuesday night’s Division IV?district tournament semifinal game against Tuscarawas Central Catholic at Buckeye Trail High School in Old Washington. Looking on are teammates Jensen Caretti (12) and Mackenzie Marshall (17).
''There's no disappointment here,'' Turner said. ''The kids won the OVAC (Class 2A championship) for the first time in the school's history. We won the sectional and I don't know when the last time was that happened.
''This is a great bunch of kids. A group of hard-working kids. It's been a very good season for these young ladies.''
And the good news is most are expected to return. Mikayla Cieszeski was the lone senior.
''And she's a good one,'' Turner stressed. ''But we'll have a lot of letterwinners back and, you know, I think we'll be very good again next year.''
This year, though, belonged to the Saints (19-4).
''The kids played hard, but it just wasn't our day,'' Turner said. ''That's a pretty good team we played. I think they've won the region the last five years.''
It was River (16-9) that struck first, building a 9-1 lead in Game 1, capped by a Caretti kill.
But TCC scored six straight, prompting Turner to call time. With the score knotted at 12-12, the Saints went on an 8-1 run to take control.
''We just kind of lost our momentum a little bit (in Game 1),'' Turner said. ''The plays go certain ways and sometimes they don't go your way.
''I thought Mikayla came up big again with five blocks. Those were huge. They were hitting out of every position and she was covering the front well.
''Jensen (Caretti) also had some swings on the ball.''
The Saints never trailed in Game 2, but the Pilots were undaunted as Game 3 began.
River jumped out to a 6-0 lead behind a pair of big shots by Caretti.
However, just like in Game 1, TCC rallied.
The Saints scored 11 straight points to take an 11-6 lead. Then, after a pair of River points, went on a 5-0 spurt to take a 16-8 advantage.
The Pilots drew to within 17-16, but TCC recorded eight of the final nine points of the game to take the match.
Amanda Bennett paced the Pilots with 15 points. Caretti had nine points, 13 digs and five kills, Monica Curtis produced nine points, seven digs and five assists, and Mackenzie Marshall had seven points and 13 digs. Mackenzie Wade added 10 digs.
While his team didn't pick up the victory, Turner believes playing on a big stage will no doubt benefit his team.
''It's huge,'' he said. ''It gives them a lot of experience.''
Thorp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org