A calm and collected approach paid off for the Cardington volleyball team when they took on Pleasant for a Division III district tittle at Mount Vernon Nazarene University Saturday night.
The Pirates gave up five straight points in the first set to turn a 23-20 lead into a 25-23 loss, but were able to rebound to win the next three by scores of 25-17, 25-13 and 25-21 to win a second straight district title and make the program’s second trip to regionals.
Head coach Ryan Treese said that with a mature group lead by a seven-girl senior class, he wasn’t sweating the way the first set ended.
“I don’t even know if I said anything after the first set,” he said. “I’m okay being down to be honest. I didn’t mind losing the set. I know this sounds weird, but last year, we lost the first set against Cincinnati Hills and came back. We need that adversity. Coach Linda (Brininger) went in there and said something and all I said was, ‘I’m fine’. I don’t care how it is; as long as we get out of here with a win, I’m fine.”
That sentiment was shared with the team.
“I don’t think anyone was nervous at all,” said senior Audrey Brininger. “Ryan wasn’t nervous, we weren’t nervous. They had a lot of energy and we made a lot of little mistakes. It was like, just fix our mistakes and we’ll be all right.”
After falling in that 1-0 hole, Cardington took steps to ensure the Spartans wouldn’t win the second set. A defensive point followed by two scores from Cadie Long gave the team a 3-0 lead. One point by Jadine Mills, two from Lily Clark and three from Payton Goodman made it a 14-5 lead. While Pleasant was able to rally within a 21-16 margin, but points by Madison Linkous and Goodman allowed Cardington to hold on to tie the match.
The Pirates then dominated the third set to move ahead in the match. Goodman opened with two points and, with the score 7-4, the team got five straight from Brininger. Goodman added a four-point run that made it 20-7 and the team went on to win by a 25-13 margin to get one set away from a title.
The fourth set was much more closely contested. Pleasant stayed with the Pirates during the early stages of it and used a three-point run to hold a 13-11 lead at the midway point. Cardington would get a little breathing room, though. Trailing 14-13, they got three points by Brininger and two from Clark to jump in front 19-15.
The Spartans were able to rally within a 21-20 count, but Cardington scored on defense and then got two points from Long to create a 24-20 match point. Pleasant got the ball back with a defensive stop, but the Pirates responded in kind to win the set and match.
“These last two weeks, I’ve been really hard on them,” said Treese, noting that after reaching the regional semis last year, he has higher goals for this season. “We had two scrimmages, which we’ve never done before, for the purpose of getting back to regionals. Just getting there isn’t good enough this year, though. We’ve worked really hard. Don’t take any credit away from Pleasant. They played a hole of a game. They scraped and they made it hard for us to get here.”
Now, for the second straight year, Cardington will play at Kettering in the regional finals — something that the team is looking forward to doing.
“It’s pretty big,” said Mills. “This season, we think we can go all the way, so we’re hoping we can make it even farther than last year. It’s definitely going to be different, but because we already played there, we’ll be ready to go.”
Treese added that he hopes his team’s effort can make them something that next opponent Versailles isn’t used to seeing.
“We learned that we’re a small town school that goes on runs of players and talent,” he said. “We’re not the traditional power. Our grittiness is something that I don’t think other teams have seen. We can get down by 6-7 points and like that, it’s tied up. They’ve learned how to be on the bigger stage. I heard someone today talking about the bigger gyms and the depth perception. We’ve been there. That’s not an issue any more. It’s nothing new. The biggest thing they’ve learned is they’ve earned this.”