MADISON - Thursday afternoon proved bittersweet for the Eastside volleyball team.
In its first ever trip to the Class AAA state tournament - an accomplishment in itself after only four wins in 2007 - Eastside's season ended after Creekview won three straight games 25-9, 25-14, 25-22 in the first round at Morgan County High School.
"We are disappointed because I think we can play better than we played the first two games," Eastside coach Angie Lewis said. "We ended up playing the third game like we know how to play, and if we'd started off that way I think we could have (done) a lot better."
Ranked seventh in the state, Creekview (30-13) never trailed on the day to Eastside (18-24).
In the first game, Creekview jumped to an early 3-0 lead thanks to several unforced errors. The Lady Grizzlies extended their lead to 10-2 after back-to-back kills by Blake Fountain.
But Eastside's Antonia Mullins cut the deficit to 13-8 with a powerful ace. However, Creekview immediately went on a 10-0 run before icing it. Creekview's Samantha Hester added three of her four aces during the stretch.
The Lady Eagles could have easily called it quits; however, they exponentially got better after their opening lackluster performance.
In the second game, Eastside came out much stronger, recording its first tie at 2-2 after consecutive kills by freshman Katie Johnston and senior Gabe Parker.
Yet it was the closest the Lady Eagles came to winning. After leaping to a 10-point lead, Creekview's Cayla Degen and Erika Fahrnbauer gave their squad a two-game advantage with back-to-back kills.
"I think we'll be remembered forever at Eastside because we are the first ones to come this far, and I think that's really exciting," Parker said. "I know that next year we're going to have a really strong team, even though I won't be here. They're going to be really great, and hopefully will go even further."
Despite losing the third and final game 25-22, Eastside ended its season on a positive note. Down 22-10, the Lady Eagles went on an 11-1 run thanks to superb communication and several rallies before finally dropping the match.
During the tear, Johnston delivered two aces while Mullins defended the net, chipping in with a pair of blocks and one kill.
"It was a good way to end the season in a game like that and in a situation like that," Lewis said.
In three games, Johnston finished with three kills, three blocks and three aces.
"That was a really good game, so I'm fine with it," Johnston said. "We had a huge comeback. In the future, I'm hoping that next year will be like this (third game) all the way. We have so much potential on this team."
Overall, Creekview's Hillary Turner had a match-high seven kills.
Mullins finished with five blocks, two kills and one ace. Parker added four digs, while Kelsey Gerks had three digs.
"Everybody is a whole lot more determined now," Eastside senior Mary Sheets said, "and everybody works hard individually and comes back and works together. We're just a much better team, and everybody gets along."
Entering this season, Eastside had just six wins over the past two years.
"It's going to be hard for the seniors because they've been such a vital part of this team," Lewis said. "But play-wise I think we'll be just as competitive next year, if not more."
Jason Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.