MONTPELIER — North Central’s Madison Brown was nervous.
The 5-foot-5 junior setter was nearing her 1,000th career assist, while the Eagles’ volleyball team was trying to close out their Buckeye Border Conference title-winning season — the program’s first in more than 30 years — against Montpelier.
On the last point of the third set, Brown set the ball for Kendee Hollstein on the left side. Hollstein slammed it to the back-right side of the Locomotives’ court to give Brown the milestone assist and North Central a 25-8, 25-9, 25-21 sweep over Montpelier on Thursday night at Montpelier High School.
“Coming in I was really nervous. I was like, ‘Am I going to get this or not?’” Brown said. “But once it started getting towards the end, I knew I was capable of getting it.”
The Eagles finished 12-0 in the BBC in improving to 18-2 overall. The Locos fell to 3-16 overall and 3-9 in conference play.
While North Central clinched its first BBC title since 1986 on Oct. 8 against Fayette, coach Stacy Roth wanted to make sure her team finished league play strong.
The Eagles did just that.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Roth said. “Even though we took it a couple games ago, we didn’t want to stop there. We didn’t want to go 10-2 (in the BBC). We were going to finish the season (12-0).”
After North Central took a commanding 2-0 match lead, Montpelier started to claw back in the third set. Following a Locos timeout caused by a Brown kill at the 10-6 mark, Montpelier went on a 6-2 run to tie it at 12-12.
“I think they were definitely being more aggressive. They were hitting the ball, swinging a lot more,” Montpelier coach Khrysta Coleman said. “Our serves were a lot more aggressive...
“When our serving is on, we can use it as a great weapon. And I think they finally turned it on there in that third set.”
North Central, however, scored six straight points after the 12-12 mark to gain an 18-12 lead and force a second Locos timeout. That run was sparked by Hollstein, who had a kill and a pair of aces.
“It was good that a senior (Hollstein) came around and did that because she’s lacked a little bit of confidence at the beginning of the season,” Roth said. “Now that we’re at the end where we need her in the tournaments, she has really grown.
“We need that confidence, and I’m glad the team got to see that.”
Montpelier, though, did not go down easily. Coming out of their second timeout, the Locos went on a 5-2 run to narrow the Eagles’ lead to 20-17.
“In between the second and third set, I just told them, ‘This is the great thing about volleyball: It always starts over 0-0. And you get to choose whether you let those previous games consume you, or if you’re going to come out and try to turn the tables,’” Coleman said. “I think that kind of got them to want to (make a push in the third set).”
North Central rallied, though, for three-straight points to make it 23-17.
The goal for the Eagles was to make sure Brown got her 1,000th assist, which was something Brown and Roth did not envision back when Brown was on varsity as a freshman.
“She’s just a well-rounded athlete,” Roth said. “I think when she first came up, I don’t know what she thought about the role of being a setter... She has just grown phenomenally from there.
“She really enjoys setting now, and that was actually one of her goals to hit the 1,000th assist. It was a little nerve-racking tonight with her, but (she was) just phenomenal.”
Montpelier scored four of the next five points to make it 24-21. But on the next volley, Brown set it for Hollstein and got the milestone she set for herself.
“(Winning the league title) feels really good because it’s been a long time since we’ve had a BBC championship,” Brown said. “And then getting my 1,000th assist just makes it perfect.”
Ariel Page led in kills (six), blocks (three) and aces (two) for Montpelier.
Brown had a team-high 23 assists and added two aces for the Eagles. Kendal Bonney hammered a team-high 20 kills while leading in blocks (two). The 6-foot junior also had 10 assists and two aces. Lauren Balser led in aces (three), while Kassidy Faler led in digs (11).
“I’m very proud of them,” Roth said.