Ten years ago, to the day, Sarah Eckert brought her Vero Beach High volleyball team to Key West claim to take part in the annual Conch Cup, and the Indians would walk away with the conch shell trophy.
Fast forward a decade and Eckert — now in her first season as head coach of the Lady Conchs and coaching in the Conch Cup for the first time since that tournament title — once again was able to lead a team to the Cup championship as Key West completed its home debut on Saturday, Sept. 18, with a 3-1 record.
“When we went to Jensen, I know the record didn’t show it, but they were playing well against some really tough opponents,” said Eckert. “So this was a huge weekend as far as having the confidence against those types of teams and learning how to keep competing and rising to the occasion.”
Coming off a 1-4 mark during the Jensen Beach Invitational, Key West entered its home two-day event at 2-5 overall, but quickly turned that around with a pair of 2-0 victories on Friday — beating True North 25-13, 25-15 and Marathon 25-12, 25-14.
On the flip side, the Lady 'Fins would end the tournament with an 0-4 mark but did garner its first game victory against Palmer Trinity in nearly a decade.
“This just shows we have the ability, the girls had just been making some young mistakes, so hopefully we keep going in this direction,” said Eckert, adding she made some adjustments to the lineup, which she felt changed the dynamic of the team. “We have been working on, instead of playing as individuals, playing as a team.”
Saturday opened with a tough 1-2 loss to Palmer Trinity, as each game in that match ended by a two-point margin. Key West would win the first 25-23, but then fell 26-24 and 15-13.
“When we dropped the match to Palmer, we had a heart-to-heart and said these are things we have to learn from,” said Eckert. “I was really proud of them because we were in a similar situation for Mater.”
In the second set against the Bears, which determined the championship as Mater Lakes entered the match unbeaten, Eckert recalled that she felt the Lady Conchs began to let its lead slip away.
“We had a quick timeout and I told them, ‘We are in the same situation (as against Palmer) — are you ready to fight for it this time? Let’s learn from the past mistakes and turn it around.’”
Key West did just that, closing out the game, match, and title, with a second 25-21 victory against Mater Lakes, 10 years after Eckert won her first with Vero Beach.
Lindsey Clausen filled out the stat sheet with a team-high 23 kills, 11 aces, and .233 hitting efficiency during the tournament. She also had 30 digs and four total blocks, while Jocelyn Alfar contributed 14 kills, four aces and a team-best eight blocks, as well as 34 assists. Vicki Pavlik aided with 26 assists, while Bridgett Sweeney had 18 kills and seven blocks, and Elsa Warwick finished with 13 kills and 25 digs.
“I was really proud of them for not allowing the same mistakes to happen again,” said Eckert. “I’m really happy because I really want them stepping up instead of playing down, and this will only prepare us for the rest of the season.”