Indian River snaps Smyrna’s 4-year streak, wins Henlopen volleyball title

Indian River players pose with the conference championship trophy following their 3-1 win over Smyrna. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

GREENWOOD — Just a couple years ago, Indian River High was lucky to win a set against Smyrna High.

When Jim Barnes first took over the IR volleyball program in 2015, the girls were just happy to reach double-digit point totals against the Eagles.

Barnes, now the fifth-year coach, watched his team defeat the Eagles, 3-1, in Saturday afternoon’s Henlopen Conference championship game at Woodbridge High.

“It’s really special for these seniors, because this is our third time being in this game against them and finally being able to win it just means a lot to all of us,” said senior outside hitter Siera Johnson. “It was one of our goals for this year, and we accomplished it.”

The first conference title in program history came just 11 days after IR’s first win over Smyrna in at least 14 matches. The Indians’ Oct. 15 defeat of the Eagles was also by the score of 3-1.

The conference title win of 25-21, 15-25, 25-19 and 27-25 snapped Smyrna’s four-year title streak and avenged the team’s consecutive 3-0 losses to the Eagles in the 2017 and ’18 championship matches.

IR players huddle up between points during Saturday’s title game.

“We used to get beat 25-2 and 25-3 against Smyrna, so to come here and win against a program like this and, not only that, but for the Southern Division team to beat a Northern Division team in the championship, I can’t even remember the last time that happened,” said Barnes.

It was Delmar High’s 3-1 victory over Smyrna in the 2014 title game that marked the last time a Southern Division team nabbed the conference hardware.

“This has been my goal since freshman year,” said junior outside hitter Raychel Ehlers. “I’m very proud of this team, to go from never being able to beat Cape Henlopen High, and other teams (from the North), to being able to beat Smyrna, it’s just a big goal of ours.”
Ehlers registered a team-high 29 kills and 19 digs, while her freshman sister Camryn Ehlers put up a team-high 31 assists with eight digs and an ace.

Johnson recorded 15 kills, while fellow seniors Jessica Amezcua (16 digs and a pair of assists), Marianni Chavez-Rodriguez (18 assists) and Citlaly Macedo (nine digs and an ace) also played key roles in the victory.

The Indians (13-2) hope to land a first-round bye in the DIAA state tournament bracket.

Smyrna (10-6) is looking to pick up its first state tournament win since sweeping Brandywine High in the first round of the 2017 tourney. It will be the Eagles’ seventh straight DIAA appearance.

The first round of the tournament opens Oct. 31.

“This win creates a lot of energy and momentum for us heading into the state tournament,” said senior Jessica Amezcua.

Smyrna’s Hannah Osborne returns an IR serve during Saturday’s title game.

Knowing what they needed to do in order to pull away with another victory, IR came out strong in the opening set. The Indians trailed just once — at 5-4 — before taking the early 1-0 advantage with a 25-21 win.

Smyrna bounced back, cruising to a 25-15 victory to even the score at one set apiece.

The Eagles looked to be rolling to a third-set win, jumping ahead 12-4 and forcing an Indian River timeout. IR then went on a 21-8 run to grab the 25-19 win and the 2-1 advantage.

“In the third set we were down by a lot, but we came back and that just showed us that we could do it,” said Amezcua.

Once again, Smyrna jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first three points and building a 15-8 lead to force another IR timeout.
IR clawed its way back in it for the second set in a row, using a 15-8 run to tie the score at 23-23.

The teams traded points, featuring a 24-24 and a 25-25 score before the Indians registered consecutive points for the 27-25 match-clinching victory.

“When it was 23-20 (in the fourth set), we went on a run and tied it,” said Barnes. “I didn’t even really say anything in the huddle, I just looked at them and said, ‘you’re right on it, you can do it, so let’s do it.’ I’m just happy that they did it. It’s just awesome.”
Ehlers attributed the strong serving from a varsity newcomer for the match-clinching fourth set success.

“Nikki Norman came up, she played J.V. all season, but she came up for this game to serve and she came out clutch in the end for us,” she said.

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