EUREKA – The Eureka volleyball team threw everything it had against No. 18 nationally-ranked Westminster on Saturday.
The Red Devils made it to 20 points in the first two sets and pushed Westminster to extra points in the third. However, the unbeaten Blue Jays managed to hold on and get a hard-earned sweep at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena, winning 25-20, 25-20 and 27-25.
Junior Emma Harris (Streator, Ill./Streator) racked up a career-high 11 kills on 32 swings to lead the Red Devils at the net.
Classmate Corinne DeBoard (Centralia, Ill./Christ Our Rock Lutheran) was right behind her with nine, while freshman Regan Reed (Flanagan, Ill./Flanagan-Cornell) added five. Reed also notched a team-high 12 digs and junior Megan Masching (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac) tallied 11. Freshman setter Faith Catour (Orion, Ill./Orion) registered 23 assists.
The Red Devils hit a season-best .103 on the day and posted a season-high seven total blocks. Freshman Katelin Peters (New Berlin, Ill./New Berlin) delivered three solo blocks.
Eureka got off to a bit of a slow start in the first set, falling behind by as many as 10, but midway through, the Red Devils started coming around.
Down 17-7, the team scored on four of the next five points, then three of the next five to cut the deficit in half at 19-14. A kill by Reed brought them within four, and after missing a serve, a missed serve by Westminster cut it to four again.
Then, back-to-back Harris kills made it 20-18. That was the first of three occasions in which EC was only down by two. It happened again after a kill by Peters at 21-19 and once more after a kill by Harris at 22-20.
The Blue Jays took the next three points to clinch the set, but the Red Devils showed they weren't going to make it easy.
The second set had a similar pattern. After falling behind by 11, Eureka worked its way back in. Down 21-10, the Red Devils went on a 6-0 run – their most straight points of the season to date – to make it 21-16.
A hitting error ended the run, but the team promptly claimed the next three points to make it 22-19. Westminster recovered by taking three of the next four points, sealing up a second 25-20 set.
In the third and final set, Eureka never trailed by more than five. Despite ultimately falling, the Red Devils were neck-and-neck with the Blue Jays during the last stretch.
They rattled off four straight points to tie the game at 21-21, tied it again at 23-23 and then reached set point at 24-23 after keeping a rally alive long enough for Westminster to miss.
A kill by Westminster's Haley Menke tied the set at 24-24, but Eureka scored again to take a 25-24 lead. Eureka was one point away from taking a set from a nationally ranked team and sending the match to a fourth set, but the team came up short on the next three points, with the final one coming on a block by Westminster's Natalie Needy.
The Red Devils finished with a team-high 13 kills in the final set, falling just three kills shy of the Blue Jays' pace and posting a higher hitting percentage than the opposition (.195 to the Blue Jays' .154).
Needy recorded a match-high 13 kills on the match while hitting a scorching .550. Menke added 10 kills. Gretchen Durbala distributed 29 assists and libero Erica Schrader had a team-high 13 digs.
Saturday was the halfway point for the Red Devils' season. Though they're still looking for their first season, Saturday's match showed they can compete with anyone in the conference when they're at their best.
Eureka (0-7) will head on the road on Tuesday to take on Spalding (2-4) at 5 p.m.