That was no different Thursday night, as a pair of teams both 23-1 and ranked in the top six in the state coaches poll met for a spot in the regional semifinals.
And the cold reality to those exciting matchups: a very good team is ending their season earlier than expected.
No. 4-ranked St. Paul (23-2) was on the wrong end of that feeling Thursday, falling in a three-game sweep at the hands of No. 6 Buckeye Central (24-1).
The Buckettes won by scores of 25-17, 25-22, 25-20.
“It’s tough, and it’s crazy when you sit back and look at it every year, that you get these quality teams in the same district,” Buckeye Central coach Jackie Nye said. “But it is what it is, and we know at the beginning of every season that this is what we’re going to have to face at the end of the season — so we spend all year getting ready for it.”
Buckeye Central controlled the match from start to finish, leaving longtime St. Paul coach Nancy Miller searching for answers.
“We were on our heels it seemed from the very beginning,” Miller said. “It felt like the kids were constantly playing not to lose instead of playing to win. I felt like we were outplayed in every aspect tonight.”
St. Paul led initially in Game 1 (11-9) after a combined block by Holly Powers and Meghan Hedrick. But Buckeye surged ahead with seven of the next eight points for a 16-12 lead, and never looked back in steadily pulling away to win by eight.
Game 2 was where the momentum took a big swing.
The Lady Flyers took a 14-11 lead after a kill and tipped ball by Tess Lepley landed over the net. B.C. then tied it at 14, and St. Paul again went up three points on two different occasions (17-14, 19-16) — but did not hold either lead.
Buckeye Central turned the 19-16 deficit into a 25-22 win by capitalizing on some unforced errors and big hits by Lexi Evak and Jenna Karl.
“Again it was the playing not to lose,” Miller said. “We weren’t playing to win. I’m not sure what was up with our hitting. We tipped way too much, they were not aggressive at the net and we were not passing well. It was challenging (setter) Rachel (Bleile) to get the ball to the hitters.”
Leading 2-0, the Buckettes never let off the pedal in Game 3.
They led 15-12 and 20-16, but then the Lady Flyers looked to have one last surge in them to keep the match going. Three straight points, including an ace from Lauren Chandler, cut the deficit to 20-19.
It was 21-20 when Buckeye reeled off the final four points to complete the sweep.
Bleile finished with 34 assists for St. Paul, while Lepley had 14 kills. Hedrick had 12 kills and 12 digs, and Chandler added seven points and 20 digs.
“The bottom line is you have to come ready to play,” Miller said. “And I just don’t feel like we stepped on the floor tonight ready to do that. We’ve had some bad practices lately and I was really afraid of that poor match coming, and unfortunately it was tonight.”
St. Paul will graduate six seniors, including Lepley, Bleile, Hedrick, Claire Spettel, Hannah Rudolph and Kaity Tomshack.