VALPARAISO | Lake Central had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Tuesday night, and there was no way that its five seniors were going to let the moment pass them by.
The Indians held off a furious rally from Valparaiso in the opening game of Tuesday's regional championship and then finished a rally of their own in the second game before closing out a 25-22, 26-24, 25-18 victory over the Vikings.
The win gave Lake Central its first regional championship since 1994, one year before any of the current players on the roster were born.
"This is just an amazing feeling to know that we'll go down in history at Lake Central," senior hitter Julianne Epperson said. "We wanted to come out strong and feed off the energy from our fans."
Playing in a hostile environment that was filled with green, the Indians buckled down and latched onto the momentum early in the night. Lake Central jumped out to a big lead in the first game, only to have the Vikings come surging back to get within two points before the Indians escaped with the 25-22 win.
"Volleyball is a game of momentum, and the first one to grab it tonight was going to have a huge advantage," Lake Central coach Tina Tinberg said. "Once we had it, we needed to carry the momentum through the night."
The Vikings looked like they were going to even the match at one game when they took a 21-17 lead and later a 24-22 advantage in the second game. The Indians never wavered and completed an impressive comeback that took the air out of the home crowd.
"When you're down two points, you have to play errorless volleyball," Tinberg said. "You can't be afraid to lose at that point."
The Vikings (26-10) looked shell-shocked by the third game and could never recover, making uncharacteristic errors throughout the night. Noelle Eveland led Valparaiso with 11 kills, but the Vikings could never establish any rhythm.
"I definitely don't feel like we played a strong match," Valparaiso coach Katie Lenard said. "There were a lot of mistakes that were made. We couldn't get our blocking going, our hitting going, our serving going. Whenever we got one going, we couldn't get the rest."
When the Indians (28-9) scored the final point, the players rushed the floor, and both sides had tears streaming down their faces. Tinberg wore a satisfied grin as she talked about her first four years with Lake Central.
"This has been a work-in-progress," Tinberg said. "Our fans have followed us throughout the journey, and they were there tonight. This was such a meaningful win for our program."