By Garth Shanklin
A quick glance at the overall record for the Milford Lady Eagles’ volleyball team in 2016 doesn’t quite tell the full story.
Yes, the team finished the year with a 7-16 mark, 5-9 in the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, but the way the team finished the season deserves a closer look.
Entering the final month of the season, the Lady Eagles found themselves at 4-13 overall having just pulled off a five-set win over Glen Este. They had to win the fifth and final set 15-13, and close wins like that can propel teams to bigger and better things down the road.
After a tough three-set loss to Turpin, Milford responded with arguably their best five-game stretch of the season. The team took a five-set victory from a Walnut Hills squad that would win 11 games on the season and followed that up with a close four-set loss to Lebanon. While the result didn’t go the way the team had hoped, it’s hard to argue with the scores from the game. The Lady Eagles lost a close first set to the Lady Warriors 29-27 before rallying for a 25-20 win in the second set. Unfortunately, they dropped the next two by 25-14 and 25-21 margins to lose the match 3-1.
However, their strong play continued three days later on Oct. 11 against Kings. The team won a 25-20 decision in the first set and dominated the second to the tune of a 25-9 win. After dropping the third set 25-14, Milford held off Kings for a 27-25 win in the fourth set to take the match 3-1.
That momentum carried the team into their sectional tournament opener against Withrow, where they rolled to a 3-0 win over the Lady Tigers by scores of 25-13, 25-4 and 25-3. That set up a rematch with Kings, and while the team battled again, they were unable to pull out the victory. Milford won the first two sets by scores of 27-25 and 21-25, but Kings won the next three 25-17, 25-17 and 15-9 to win the match.
Despite the way the season ended, Milford head coach Melissa Downs said she liked the growth the team showed as the season progressed.
“I would have to say that me and my staff are so proud of how are girls grew throughout the season, and overcame some definite challenges,” Downs said. “All season we told the girls that they all have the ability to change to the outcome of matches. We were impressed with some of the younger players who really stepped up and made some great plays for our team. Our senior reminded us to stay positive and enjoy the season and enjoy the family environment we have created. We truly became a unit this year.”
Suzy Bullock was the team’s outside hitter as well as their lone senior. She played in 79 sets for the Lady Eagles this season and tallied 62 kills with 207 assists.
Three Milford players were named to the all-ECC team for their efforts. Junior Lisa Sullivan tallied 261 kills, 723 assists and 275 digs, earning her a spot on the first-team all-conference squad.
Sophomore Erica Sharp totaled 114 digs and 325 assists, good for a second-team selection. Freshman Abby Thierauf didn’t even play in Milford’s first six games of the season, but her 203 assists, 28 aces and 92.6 serve percentage were good enough to land her on the honorable mention team.
With so many players returning next season, it’s no wonder Downs is “excited” for the 2017 campaign.
“Next year we hope to continue our family environment and hope to see great things from a large senior class and some very strong underclassman,” Downs said. “We hope to get stronger and build on our success now that we have some more experience playing together. We are very excited for the 2017 volleyball season.”