MODOC – The second season (IHSAA state tournament) started Tuesday evening for several high school volleyball teams in Indiana, and Union (Modoc) was one of them.

The tourney-host Rockets, without a senior on their team, took on defending champion Seton Catholic, a team with just one 12th-grader, in an opening-round match of Class A Sectional 56.

Union led in all three sets, but the Cardinals went on big runs in all three to put some distance between the two teams and swept past the Rockets in three sets 25-14, 25-18, 25-15.

Seton Catholic improved to 11-14 for the season and plays Tri in Saturday’s first semifinal match at 11 a.m.

Union, vastly improved from a year ago, ended its 2021 season with a 2-17 record.

“It’s been an uphill battle for us this season,” Union Head Coach Lyndsea Burke remarked afterward. “We’ve had to deal with COVID, injuries, illness, we’re young, and we play in a very tough conference. But we’re a better team than our record indicates, and people will notice that by watching us play.”

The Rockets hung tough with the Cardinals and made them earn many of their points. Several points were recorded after long rallies featuring good play from both sides.

“We played in a summer league and noticed the potential we have,” Burke said. “We are young and rather inexperienced, but our girls are not intimidated by any team we face. As we gain experience, we’ll eliminate a lot of the long runs other teams make against us.”

The first set went back-and-forth with ties at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8. During that opening stretch of play, Union got blocks from Glory Ellis and Honour Ellis plus a Madelyne Glaser tip while Seton got kills from freshmen Bryn VanVleet and Bella Cornell, an Ella Berger block and tip, and a service ace from lone senior Lydia Reichley.

A tip by Honor Ellis gave the Rockets a 9-8 advantage, but a serving error on the tourney hosts turned the ball over to the Cardinals’ Cornell to serve, and the roof fell in on Union for awhile.

Cornell served for nine consecutive points and an 18-9 Seton lead. Cornell recorded seven service aces, one of which hit the net and trickled over it before falling fair to the floor.

A point by Honour Ellis ended that string of points, but a ball served long and a Mekenna McDonald kill gave the Cardinals their first double-digit lead at 20-10.

An Honour Ellis kill trimmed it to 20-11, but a VanVleet kill and Cornell point eventually helped Seton reach set point at 24-14.

When the Rockets hit the ball into the net, the Cardinals took set one after 15 minutes of play.

The second set was Union’s best of the evening. This set also was close at the beginning with deadlocks at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6.

During that period of play, the Rockets got a pair of kills from Honour Ellis while the Cardinals’ VanVleet answered with a pair of terminations of her own.

The Tri volleyball team had entered the gymnasium around the middle of the first set to do some advance scouting for Saturday’s semifinal match, and was cheering loudly for Union.

Perhaps that support helped the tourney hosts, as they recorded five straight points, and six of the next seven, for their largest advantage of the match at 12-7.

During that stretch of play, Honour Ellis had a kill and block and Riley Gray recorded a back-line service ace for the Rockets, while Reichley got Seton’s only point.

By the end of the next 11 points, Union was outscored just 6-5 and looked to be in good shape with a 17-13 advantage.

During that stretch of play, the Rockets got two of their points on an Honour Ellis kill and a Zoe Ogden tip, while the Cardinals earned points on a Reichley tip and service ace and a VanVleet kill.

Then the roof fell in on Union again. A serve into the net turned the ball over to Seton’s Kara Berger to serve, and she did so for 10 consecutive points that enabled the Cardinals to reach set point at 24-17.

During that critical segment of play, Cornell and McDonald recorded kills, Berger had a service ace, and the Rockets had seven hitting miscues.

Seton hit the ball long to end that string of points, but Union hit the ball wide which handed the Cardinals set two after 21 minutes.

The Rockets led 2-0 early in the third set after an Honour Ellis kill and a ball hit wide by Seton, but the Cardinals knotted things up at 2-2 after a Reichley point and VanVleet kill, and took a 3-2 advantage on a McDonald service ace.

Union then outscored Seton 6-5 over the next 11 points to forge a final tie at 8-8. During that period of play, Glory Ellis had a service ace for the Rockets, Kara Berger had a kill for the Cardinals, and all of the other points were scored from errors on both sides.

Then Seton went on a 9-2 run to zoom to a 17-10 lead, prompting a Union timeout. Before that brief break, the Cardinals got a pair of service aces from Cornell, a kill and point from Reichley, a McDonald kill, and an Ella Berger tip, while the Rockets got a point on a Kaitlynn Holderman kill.

After play resumed, Ogden got a kill to pull Union back to within 17-11, but Seton scored six straight points right after that, four on a pair of VanVleet kills and two Reichley service aces, to grab a commanding 23-11 advantage.

The Cardinals hit the ball wide, but the Rockets had a poor serve, and Seton reached set and match point.

Union staved off elimination temporarily when the Cardinals served the ball into the net and Glory Ellis followed with back-to-back service aces, the latter hitting the net and trickling over.

But an Ella Berger kill ended set three after 21 minutes and gave Seton Catholic the match three sets to none.

“Our girls love each other and love playing volleyball,” Burke added. “They’re already looking forward to next year. With no seniors and everybody returning, we should be a much better team next season. Union won a sectional a few years ago, and my goal is for us to do that again.”