Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, is a date which should reverberate loudly in the history of East Central College sports.
That was the day the volleyball Falcons went from being the new team on the block to a national contender, stunning nationally-ranked Metropolitan Community College-Longview in the NJCAA Division II District O title match at St. Louis Community College-Florissant.
“This team is a very special group for me,” said East Central Head Coach Brad Bruns. “Eight of them helped me launch this program two years ago and when I recruited them we all wanted the same thing, to win the region and earn a chance to win a national title. We all kept our word and were making it happen. I’m so proud of what they have accomplished thus far and I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can take it. They want to be national champions and I have no doubt that they’re capable of achieving it. Everyone stepped up their game for this match, so it’s hard to single out any one player.”
East Central was in its second season since the program was restarted, and had reached the district title match in 2007, getting swept by Longview.
In fact, Longview had won every set of the five previous matches played between the two sides in both 2007 and 2008.
And that seemed to carry through the first two sets, 25-21 and 25-20 wins for Longview.
East Central took its first set from Longview in Game 3, winning 25-17. That was just what the team needed.
“After the second game, we were all depressed,” said defensive specialist Megan Santhuff. “In the third game, we showed we could win. After the third game, we had our momentum up and they couldn’t stop us.”
That was just what the Falcons needed.
In the fourth game, extra points were required. It took three game points, but East Central prevailed. Steph Garrett gave the Falcons game point, 26-25, and All-American middle hitter Erica LaBoube finished it by knocking down the winning kill. The Hermann graduate logged 23 kills and 13 digs in the match.
The fifth set was played to 15. East Central led at the switch, but Longview came back to tie it at 11-11.
Tied 14-14, another Hermann graduate stepped up. Jamie Murray slammed down her 13th kill of the match to give East Central match point. She also provided five blocks, five digs and one assist.
Up 16-15, the Falcons got the final point when Owensville’s Kari Blankenship blocked a Longview attack.
“It was incredible and the girls went crazy when the last ball hit the floor,” said Bruns. “Everyone ran to the middle of the court, including the coaching staff, the parents, and the fans. The parents and the fans were electrifying and they cheered the whole time. We even had a few of the other teams from the tournament cheering us on.”
There were many standouts for the Falcons.
Setter Alyssa Speckhals of Hermann posted a double-double with 48 assists and 13 digs to go with one block.
Garrett, from Logan-Rogersville, logged 11 kills, 13 digs and one block. Another Logan-Rogersville grad, Steph Heim, posted 15 digs.
Washington graduate Anne Jacquin, a captain with LaBoube, recorded 19 digs in the libero jersey.
Bruns said East Central never gave up hope.
“During the first two games, we played very sharp until the last few points,” Bruns said. “We just couldn’t finish. I think it hit the girls hard that this could be their last game and they weren’t ready to quit. Longview made the mistake of thinking it was already over by that time and we capitalized on it. The girls came out in the third game and just beat on them. That was all the momentum we needed. The next two games were perfect examples of not wanting to give up. It was displayed by both teams and the scores were tight. I can say confidently that we were better conditioned for the long match and I think that is why we came out on top. The girls were so pumped up and they never got tired. We were able to force Longview to make a lot of mistakes and we finally backed them up against the wall.”
East Central went on to Wisconsin Dells, Wis., for the national tournament, placing 13th.
It was the first of three consecutive trips to the national tournament for the Falcons with a best finish of 11th in 2010. East Central entered that tournament ranked fourth nationally, the program’s best position.
Bruns stayed at East Central through the 2010 season and later coached St. Francis Borgia Regional to its 10th Class 3 state championship in 2013, while also serving as that school’s athletic director.
Most of the players on the 2008 district championship team went on to play at four-year schools.
LaBoube and Santhuff played at Central Methodist University. Murray went to Erskine College in South Carolina while Garrett ended up near Murray at Lander University. Blankenship played at Maryville University.
Speckhals played at McKendree University and currently is playing women’s football for the St. Louis Slam. Heim and Nicole Mannino, the freshmen, went to the University of Tulsa and William Woods University, respectively.