GLOUSTER — Trimble coach Shelly Lackey admitted there was some work to do when she made her return to the Tomcat bench after a five-season absence.
“When we first started, Briana (Orsborne), she said, ‘coach what are we doing today?’ I said, ‘we’re going to learn plays today.’ She said, ‘there’s plays in volleyball?’ That’s how we started,” Lackey said.
The Tomcats may have started with some work to do, but they’ve ended the regulaseason journey on top of the Tri-Valley Conference mountain.
Trimble defeated Eastern 3-1 on Thursday inside Bill White Gymnasium, clinching the outright TVC-Hocking Division volleyball championship by scores of 23-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-13.
The Tomcats are league champions for only the second time in program history — joining the 2015 squad — but are outright league winners for the first time ever.
“To get to this point where they won the TVC outright and to be where they are is pretty outstanding,” Lackey said. “I’m so happy for them, I can’t stand myself.”
To make the championship even sweeter for the Tomcats (18-4, 11-1 TVC-Hocking), they were able to avenge their only league defeat against Eastern.
“It feels really good,” Trimble’s Adelynn Stevens said. “They beat us the first time. It took a toll on us and we were in a funk for a while. Then we came out and I don’t think they were ready for us.”
The Eagles (14-7, 9-3 TVC-Hocking) were trying to force a three-way tie for the league title, with Waterford also getting a piece, but were unable to slow down the Tomcats.
Trimble’s win not only denied Eastern’s bid for a piece of the title, but it ended Waterford’s seven-season streak of at least winning a piece of the TVC-Hocking crown.
The accomplishment also marks the first time that any TVC-Hocking school other than Eastern or Waterford has won the league outright since Southern did it back-to-back seasons under the direction of Howie Caldwell in 1995 and 1996.
“I think we worked really hard to get here and it did not sit well with us, when they beat us the first time,” Trimble’s Briana Orsborne said. “It was good to beat them.
“We didn’t want to share the TVC, not with anyone,” she added. “It was ours.”
Trimble junior outside hitter Laikyn Imler should also have the league’s Offensive MVP award all to herself once the coaches vote on the honor.
Imler had another brilliant all-around night, pounding home a match-high 22 kills to go with a pair of aces.
The Eagles, just like every other team in the league, were unable to slow down the Tomcats’ standout hitter from putting down kill after kill.
Imler ranks in the top five in Division IV in total kills for the season, and Lackey said it’s mostly due to her vertical jumping ability.
“She jumps like a gazelle but she also, when she jumps, she sometimes takes the opportunity to look up to see where the ball needs to go,” Lackey said. “When she does that, she can’t be stopped.”
Riley Campbell also added seven kills and three aces for Trimble. The junior missed the 3-0 loss at Eastern due to an injury.
“We went down there (to Eastern on Sept. 22) with a funky lineup that looks really, really good in practice, but not really, really good under pressure,” Lackey said. “So Riley Campbell was back today and man she’s playing outstanding.
“I think her defense has improved so much,” she added. “I’m more proud of her defense than I am her offense, even though she’s a stud in the front row too.”
Jacie Orsborne handed out 34 assists, and the Tomcats served up 15 aces as a team. Briana Orsborne had four aces, while Faith Handley also added three.
Perhaps the Tomcats were a little too eager to get revenge on the Eagles, as it was Eastern that came out on fire early in the match.
Eastern jumped out to leads of 6-1 and 12-4 after two Alivia Barber aces.
The Tomcats settled in with a 15-2 run, leading 19-14 after a Stevens block at the net.
Eastern rallied back, taking the 25-23 victory after a Trimble attack error. At that point, the Eagles had won all four sets against Trimble on the season.
Lackey said it was important for the Tomcats to realize it was only one set, and more volleyball was left to be played.
“Eastern came out really, really hot,” Lackey said. “We did not, and I knew Eastern couldn’t sustain that high through the whole game.”
The second set was tied at 11-11 before Trimble started to take command. A run of six consecutive points culminated with Imler’s kill. The Tomcats closed on a 14-4 run for the 25-15 win to even the match.
“I think we took everything we learned in practice, because we really work hard in practice,” Stevens said. “I think once it clicked that, they beat us the first time but we can still beat them, then we put everything together and we played as a team and we just pulled through.”
The third set was tied at 9-9 before the Tomcats hit another run, leading 16-9 after Jacie Orsborne’s big block at the net. The advantage grew to 19-11 after one of Jacie Orsborne’s aces.
Imler’s kill clinched the 25-16 win, giving Trimble the 2-1 lead in the match.
The Tomcats continued to roll in the fourth set, leading 8-3 after Imler’s ace.
The final set was a party of sorts for Trimble, as it inched closer to the championship with every point.
The Tomcats led 21-11 after a Campbell kill. With the fans on their feet, Briana Orsborne served an ace that officially made program history with the first outright league crown.
“It feels good to be the first,” Stevens said of the history. “I think we earned it.”
Eastern had five players with at least five kills, led by Jenna Chadwell (nine kills), Megan Maxon (eight kills), Barber (seven kills), Tessa Rockhold (six kills) and Layna Catlett (five kills).
The Tomcats will get a week off before hosting a Division IV sectional championship game. As the No. 2 seed in the bracket, Trimble could also host a district semifinal, as it will attempt to also win the program’s first district championship.
“I think we’ll be ready,” Lackey said. “They’re hungry.”