UPPER SANDUSKY - Upper Sandusky celebrated its senior night before Thursday's match with Galion. There was only one senior to honor, but she just happened to be one of the best players that ever came through the program.
Taylor Graboski - who will sign a National Letter of Intent next month to continue her career at Valparaiso - played her final match in the Upper Sandusky gymnasium and walked off the floor a North Central Conference champion.
The Rams defeated Galion 25-14, 25-20, 25-16 to finish the year with a 13-1 league mark (20-2 overall) and the outright NCC title.
"It was definitely a good feeling for many reasons," Graboski said. "First because it was senior night. It's my last night to play in this gym, especially in front of this big crowd that we had tonight. And another, that it showed we can win the NCC and that we came and we're starting to become a powerhouse again."
Upper Sandusky coach Matthew McConnaughey said Graboski is a big reason why this year's Ram team was able to become that powerhouse.
"Taylor has put our program on the map," he said. "She is a dominant player. People that know volleyball, know her. So our program has gotten respect because of her. And obviously she's one of the best players in all of Ohio."
"She's so special; I love her to death," Ram junior Jenna Holly added about Graboski. "She's such a hard worker and a positive role model to our team."
After the senior night ceremonies, it was actually Galion that got off to a fast start. Reanne Neal was responsible for three quick points as Galion jumped out to a 5-1 lead. Graboski, though, jump-started a 12-3 Upper Sandusky run that saw her team take control of the first game.
Neal was kept in check the rest of the game as the Rams cruised to take the opener.
McConnaughey praised his team's defense, which helped them take control of the match.
"Especially in the first set I thought we blocked Reanne well," he said. "She's obviously their lead hitter. I thought we served tough the whole match and it was tough for them to run their middle because of our serving. That was good, that was one of our focus areas."
Neal, though, was key in Galion racing out to an 8-4 lead in Game 2, but once again the Rams stormed back. Jessi Holly slammed seven kills in the game while Molly Owens added four as the Rams pushed in front and went on to take the game.
Holly finished with a team-high 15 kills with Owens adding nine.
The third game was mostly a coronation. Although Galion stayed close early, Upper Sandusky scored 10 of the final 13 points to seal the match, and the league title.
Graboski finished with 10 kills in her final home game.
"Our last outright championship was 1995 and that was the year I was born," Graboski said. "It was nice to actually send a message and make our mark on our volleyball history here."
Jenna Holly, who was honored during the match for recording her 1,000 career dig on Saturday, said after the win that the tone for the night was set the day before in practice.
"We worked really hard in practice yesterday because we knew it was going to be a hard game. And we came out ready to play, cause it was senior night and everything," she said.
"We were super excited for it. We just kept focused in practice. We had a really good practice yesterday. Usually when we don't have good practices we don't play good the next day. But, we had a really good practice."
The contrast turned out to be true for Galion coach Jaime Valentine.
"We buckle under pressure," Valentine said. "I told the girls yesterday, we play so tough in practice, no balls drop on the floor, we're hitting hard and we come to big pressure situations like this and we just don't execute. It doesn't matter how hard you play in practice, it matters how you show up on game day. And they didn't show up today."
A good crowd, though, did show up on Volley for the Cure night, and was able to celebrate the career of one of Upper Sandusky's all-time best, and witness the Rams lock up the league. All in all, a night McConnaughey said couldn't have gone any better.
"That's exactly what you want to happen," he said. "Gong into the all-league team selection, going into the tournament in a week or so. Riding the emotions of Volley for the Cure night and senior night, it's a great night. We beat them in three, exactly what I wanted."