BOARDMAN - There were several thoughts racing through Alana Woodard's mind with her season and career at Southeast High School on the line in a Division II sectional final against Hubbard on Thursday.
Woodard, the two-time player of the year in the Portage Trail Conference, said she was shaking because of how nervous she was as the Pirates trailed two games to one and were down, 26-25, in the fourth game - one point from elimination.
"There were a lot of different things (going through my mind)," she said. "I was nervous. I wanted to keep everyone up. I was trying to keep a positive attitude and not be negative toward anyone. I just knew we had to fight for the next point. This was my season."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Hubbard’s Marquette Gasser, right, punches the ball over the net for a point past Southeast’s Taylar Friend. Southeast eventually rallied to beat Hubbard, 3-2, in Boardman.
One feeling that didn't surface was panic. She and Southeast kept their composure during a huge rally by Hubbard in Game 4, and eventually outlasted the Eagles in a five-set thriller at Boardman High School, 3-2.
Southeast plays Salem in the district semifinal on Tuesday at Boardman.
Getting there certainly wasn't easy, and that was to be expected. The two teams came in with a combined record of 39-7, and both are known as perennial powers in the area.
Hubbard coach Jeremy Porter said he couldn't remember the last time the Eagles (19-5) didn't reach the district semifinals because it had been so long. They certainly didn't go without a fight. Hubbard fought back from a 21-12 deficit in Game 4 to take a 25-24 lead and then a 26-25 advantage. But they just couldn't put away the pesky Pirates, who won Game 4, 29-27, and led all of Game 5, winning 15-12.
Porter said he knew a lot about Southeast (21-3) because several members of the Pirates play on an area club team. That gave him plenty of knowledge about Woodard.
"Alana Woodard's been a standout since she was in sixth grade," he said. "She really came to play tonight, and she was the key reason why they're going on and we're not. She's tough to stop."
It didn't appear that way at first, as Hubbard cruised to a 25-19 win in Game 1.
The Eagles continued to pour it on early in Game 2, but the Pirates rallied and took their first lead at 19-18. Hubbard closed to 24-22 on bad serve by Southeast, but a kill by Woodard ended the short spurt.
Once again, the winning team didn't play well the following game. The Eagles dominated Game 3, winning 25-15, but the momentum continued to shift in Game 4, with Southeast taking a big lead and narrowly holding on to force the fifth set.
"Volleyball is just all momentum," Porter said. "Usually the team that gets that run like we did in the fourth game wins it. But they happened to make a play or two to get the momentum back on their side."
Southeast coach Mary Tarka said she didn't want to put any undue pressure on her girls in the final game. Tarka, in her 39th season with the Pirates, made the plan simple.
"We just set small goals," she said. "Be the first to eight. Be the first to 10. You can't go for 15 right away."
As good as Woodard was, the Pirates defense was equally impressive, staving off several spikes by Hubbard in the final set and then giving Woodard nice sets on their returns. Woodard, who admitted having a hard time keeping her emotions under control, said her teammates' ability to stay calm was a big reason for the victory.
"I really try to just keep myself up because if I'm up, everyone's up, and we just all come together and keep each other going," she said. "Once we picked each other back up and became the team that we are - everyone just kept the intensity up and was getting excited - I just really felt like that was our team. That's who I love to play with."