ARCOLA -- Tri-County made it a clean sweep of the 42nd annual Little Okaw Valley Conference volleyball Tournament Thursday at Nancy Stiff Gymnasium, but not without a fight from Sangamon Valley/Tri-City, the winners of the LOVC Northwest Division. The Lady Titans won 25-14, 25-21, after beating Oblong and Hutsonville-Palestine earlier in the week in two sets to win the LOVC Southeast Division title.
It was Tri-County's seventh LOVC overall title in the last 10 years. Tri-County did not win it in 2009, '14 and '16. In 2015 Tri-County also beat Sangamon Valley for the title.
"Our coach (Crystal Buckler) started crying (in the huddle after the trophy was given out)," said Tri-County's Ali Smith. "We were all excited we got the LOVC championship and it was good because it is my senior year also."
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond swept Oblong to earn fifth place 25-18, 25-10.
Hutsonville/Palestine earned third place with an 11-25, 25-19, 25-20 over Cerro Gordo.
Tri-County led in the second set 12-6 as things looked good. Sangamon Valley roared back with a 9-1 run, including five points by Hannah Boggs, including an ace to give the Storm a 15-13 lead. Sangamon Valley still led 17-15 when a tip by Tri-County's Kaylenn Hunt, a 6-0 freshman, gave the Lady Titans the serve. Grace Burnside served three straight points getting help from two kills by Smith, including one with authority that brought the Tri-County fans to their feet.
Tri-County led 22-21 after a kill by Aubrey Hunt on a serve by Grace Honeyman for the Storm. Smith served the final two points.
"We started the second set a little rough," said Buckler. "Our serve receive got the best of us and they had a couple of good kills on us, but my girls didn't let it get into their heads and I am very proud of them for that. We have been working on our blocking and defense and making sure we are in the right spots and that we are always moving no matter where they are at."
"Our defense was fantastic tonight. It was nice to come in and play someone that we have not played. Sangamon Valley had some good hitters and they didn't let a lot of volleyballs fall. I was really impressed with how we played and this shows the high level of volleyball they can play."
In the first set the Storm never led but after two service points by Aubrey Hunt, one of seven Sangamon Valley seniors, including an ace, the Lady Titans led just 13-12.
Tri-County's Ashtyn Cottle served four straight points after the Lady Titans earned a point ballooning the lead to 18-12. Among the points during the stretch was a kill by Burnside off a set by Julia Robertson.
"That is what has been happening the last few games," said Buckler. "We get a serve and then we get two or three in a row and I think that really pumps them up and gets them going."
Sangamon Valley, 10-13, never threatened the rest of the set as the Lady Titans finished off the 12-2 run with a kill by Smith, who led the team with 11 on the day.
Robertson finished with 20 assists and Kaylenn Hunt had five blocks to lead the Lady Titans.
A-L-A-H led 6-3 in the first set and then again 8-3 in the second set when Hannah Wallen came up and served four and six points respectively to give the Knights larger leads. Oblong did rally from seven down to within two in the first set before A-L-A-H pulled away.
"Hannah had a good strong consistent serve," said Knights coach Emily Crossman. "She was getting good movement on the ball. At the time we also have Liz Shipman as our front row outside hitter and she was very successful tonight for our team. It was a good rotation to be in."
While the Knights took fifth place Crossman would have rather been playing for first. This is definitely not the game we had goals of playing in," said Crossman. "It is kind of like the dagger watching the other teams warm up knowing we didn't perform when we needed to. It was a good lesson for us to have right in the middle of the season."
"It opened our eyes a little bit to making us realize that we have to earn our points and earn our game. Just because we had a great start does not mean anything is going to be given to us. I am proud that we played a tough game and won big to get fifth place, but it was not the position we wanted to be in."
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, 18-1, is to play host to Cerro Gordo, the team that beat them in the LOVC Northwest Division Tournament 25-15, 25-21 in what was the Knights only loss of the season. It is a LOVC NW contest and is Tuesday.
For us that is great timing," said Crossman. "These girls need a little redemption. Cerro Gordo is a tough program and are going to be tough the next couple of years, but we definitely didn't play our style. So, we are looking for a second chance at them."
Tri-County, 17-6, is to travel to Broadlands to play Heritage Tuesday in a LOVC SE Division contest.