Chittenango A 27-year wait for the East Syracuse-Minoa girls volleyball team to earn a Section III championship ended in the most exciting way possible.
The top-seeded Spartans, trailing by two sets to no. 2 seed Oneida in Saturday's Class A final at Chittenango High School, made it all the way back, relying on Rachel Aird's power and Samantha Lobello's deft passes to topple the Indians in five sets and win the sectional title.
A week earlier, ESM had pulled off a different sort of comeback in the sectional quarterfinals against New Hartford, rallying from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to prevail in five. Here, the hole against Oneida was deeper, but the result was just the same.
Breaking out of a 4-4 tie early in the first set, the Indians went on a 5-1 run to pull ahead for good. ESM closed the gap to 18-15, but Oneida got away again and, by a 25-18 margin, seized the early advantage.
Aird, aided by Amanda Cannoro up front, helped the Spartans come back from an early second-half deficit and grab a 22-19 lead. Just when it was about to pull even, though, ESM gave up that lead, and then, at 25-24, could not convert a set point, the Indians taking full advantage to prevail 28-26.
Such a development could have crippled the Spartans - but the exact opposite took place.
ESM scored the first four points of the third set. Oneida came back, but from a 5-5 tie, the Spartans took off on a 10-2 run, taking full advantage of Oneida's multiple hitting errors. Though the Indians closed the gap to 21-18, ESM quickly answered and won the set 25-21 to get itself on the board.
Lobello's aces created another 4-0 start in the fourth set and this time the Spartans never got caught. A memorable moment was Aird going into the bleachers to keep a point alive, and then getting a kill on the same rally to make it 13-7. From there, the Spartans were in full control, never letting Oneida get closer than four points in a 25-18 decision.