The best season in Cardington volleyball history came to an end in the Division III regional semifinals hosted by Kettering Fairmont High School.

Taking on Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, the Pirates bowed out in five hard-fought sets. Scores were 16-25, 25-21, 12-25, 25-20 and 11-15. The team’s coach, Ryan Treese, was pleased with how his team battled back against the Eagles.

“That was the last thing we said,” noted Treese. “We fought until the end. We gained experience. I expect to be back next year. It build confidence. We can be from a small school and we can fight.”

The Pirates fell in a back-and-forth first set thanks to a pair of scoring runs by their opponents. Trailing 11-9, Cardington surrendered three straight points to Carmen Solaria. At 18-14 Eagles, the Cincinnati school added four points off the serving of Mary Jones to widen their lead on the way to taking a 1-0 lead in the match.

The Pirates would respond. While much of the second set looked like it would play out in the same way, it would be Cardington that got the key runs. Trailing 15-12, the team took the lead on five straight Maggie Wade points. They would add one from Emalee Artz, two by Cadie Long and one from Audrey Brininger in opening up a 24-19 lead on their way to tying the match at one set each.

Treese, who has been letting the players handle speaking duties during timeouts this year, felt they did a great job of putting the first set out of their minds and focusing on what needed done in the second.

“I don’t know what they said, but something clicked in the second set,” he said.

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t carry over to the third set, as CHCA jumped out to a big early lead and didn’t let up. Three points from Allison Barrick, two from Katharine Clayton and three more from Mary Jones staked the Eagles to an 11-4 lead and then Avery Cox added four and Ava Kraft scored two to make it 19-7 in a game they would win 25-12.

Facing elimination, Cardington rallied to force a fifth set. Long scored four straight points to stake her team to a 5-1 lead. The Eagles would rally behind a four-point run by Jones that tied things up at 9-9, which was followed by two points from Cox that staked them to a 12-10 lead.

However, Cardington would play strongly down the stretch. One point from Wade, two by Madison Linkous and one more by Long moved the Pirates back in front by a 17-14 score. Then, after their opponents rallied to tie things up at 19, they would get a defensive point and four straight by Riley Burchett to make it 24-19. After CHCA got a defensive point, the Pirates returned the favor to send things to a fifth set.

The Eagles jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the deciding game, but Cardington was able to make a run. Trailing 8-4, they got a defensive point and then picked up four in a row from Wade to take a 9-8 advantage. However, Cincinnati Hills was able to keep the Pirates from adding any more to their lead. A two-point run put them back in the lead and with the score 11-10, they got three in a row from Clayton to obtain match point.

Cardington scored defensively to prolong the set, but would not be able to score on their next serve as their season ended with a 21-4 record, as well as KMAC and district titles.

Brininger recorded 18 kills and 14 digs in the match, while Payton Goodman had 13 and Izzy Wickline contributed seven and three blocks. Wade had four aces and 15 digs, while Burchett added two. Artz tallied a pair of blocks. Long finished with 26 digs and Jadine Mills had 14 digs and 39 assists.

One reason Treese is optimistic that his team will return to regionals next year is the amount of talent he has returning, although he was sure to mention that a number of seniors who filled valuable roles will need to be replaced.

“We bring back both our outsides, our middle, our right-side, our setter and our Libero,” he said. “We do lose a lot of our back row. They took the pressure off our hitters having to play six rotations. Our seniors might not have led us in any statistical category, but they were the key to our success. They were program kids and worked their butts off all the time.”

Cardington hitter Madison Linkous goes up to send the ball over the net in Thursday night’s regional semifinal contest with Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. hitter Madison Linkous goes up to send the ball over the net in Thursday night’s regional semifinal contest with Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rob Hamilton

[email protected]

Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS