ORWIGSBURG – Three years ago, the Lehighton volleyball team made its last appearance in the District 11 playoffs.
Two years ago, Indians head coach T.J. O'Connor last appeared in the District Tournament as the head coach of Blue Mountain.
This year, the stars seemed to align perfectly as O'Connor returned to Blue Mountain by coaching Lehighton back into the District playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the happiest of Homecomings, as the Eagles defeated Lehighton in four games (25-17, 25-17, 10-25, 28-26) to advance to Tuesday night's Class AA semifinal against top-seeded Bethlehem Catholic.
The loss ends the Indians season at 14-6, which included trips back to the Mountain Valley Conference and District 11 playoffs.
"I'm definitely proud of my girls first and foremost. They had a great season and they did a heckuva job today," stated O'Connor. "I'm also proud of the Blue Mountain girls. I coached all of their seniors from eight grade on until I left. If I had to lose to any team, it would be them I'd want to lose to because once you're somebody's coach, you're always their coach."
Lehighton jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first game, but Blue Mountain (15-2) rallied back on a 9-1 run, which included three conesutive service aces by sophomore Brittney Moyer. Moyer also added six kills, as the Eagles took a 25-17 game one victory.
The momentum continued for Blue Mountain early in game two, as middle hitter Jordann Seasock's four straight kills paced the Eagles to an 11-3 lead. Lehighton would trim the deficit to 16-12, but they could not get any closer as Seasock dominated the net in the second game with eight kills in the 25-17 win.
However, down 2-0, Lehighton would not go away quietly. In fact, the Indians began picking up steam and junior Jackie Jordan was leading the charge. A seven-point service run by Taylor Yurasits put Lehighton comfortably ahead 11-2, and after having a combined three kills in the first two games, Jordan exploded for nine kills in a 25-10 game three win.
Carrying all of the momentum, Lehighton opened the fourth set with a 4-1 lead in a game that ultimately featured nine lead changes. The Indians found themselves ahead 16-13 at one point, but unforced errors began taking their toll, as Lehighton began shooting itself in the foot at the most inopertune times. Leading 24-22 and 25-24, Lehighton twice served "game point" into the net and out of bounds respectively. Then, after a Tia Rex kill tied the game at 26-26, a Lehighton service error and hitting error gave Blue Mountain the 28-26 victory to clinch the match. Lehighton committed a combined 15 errors in the fourth set.
"Mental toughness has been a problem for us all year long, as far as inconsistency and closing games out," added O'Connor. "We had three times there at the end where we just needed to put the ball in play and we didn't do it."
Brittney Moyer had 20 kills, six block, 12 digs, 10 service points and three aces to lead Blue Mountain. Jordann Seasock added 14 kills and four blocks, while Michelle O'Dell (20 digs, 10 service points) and Lexi Hammer (35 assists) also factored into the win.
For Lehighton, Jackie Jordan tallied 19 kills and seven digs, while Tiff Thompson added eight kills, 12 service points and four aces. Taylor Yurasits dished off 26 assists to go along with 13 service points and Danielle Fake added 22 digs.
"I think the biggest word to sum everything up is 'pride'," concluded O'Connor. "The girls could have rolled over after those first two games and packed it in, but they did a nice job of fighting back. Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but they should be proud of their season. I certainly am."