In the playoffs, the goal for teams is to survive and advance — exactly what the Highland volleyball team did Thursday night in their Division II regional semifinal contest against New Concord John Glenn.
Locked in a dogfight with the Muskies at Heath High School, the Scots found themselves in a 2-1 hole in the best-of-five match. However, they saved their best for the final two sets, winning the fourth by a dominating 25-11 margin before pulling away in the fifth to take a 15-7 decision to come from behind and top their opponents 3-2.
“When you get to regionals, you’ve got nerves,” said head coach Rob Terrill. “You’ve just got to feel it a little bit. Thank God it’s five sets and we were able to feel through it.”
Each of the first three sets could have gone either way, but John Glenn held the advantage after scores of 25-22, 23-25 and 25-23 were recorded.
One big scoring run proved crucial in the first set. Highland opened with three points from Makenna Belcher and, on their first trip through the rotation, added two by Raina Terry and one each by Ashlynn Belcher, Kendall Stover and Abby Eusey to lead 13-7. The team still led 16-12, but gave up six straight to Madelyn Adkins to fall behind for the first time.
The Scots were able to stay close, but two Abby Dickson points extended the Muskie lead from 22-21 to a three-point margin and set them up to take the opening set.
Terrill felt an important aspect to the match was simply getting his team to slow down mentally and play more consistently.
“I tell them a lot that we need to slow our minds down,” he said. “Fighting back point for point, we had to get a rhythm.”
John Glenn then got out to a quick start in the second set, as Ashlyn Yarger scored four straight points to open it.
However, Highland got two from Ashlynn Belcher and three from Darcie Walters to knot the score at seven. Leading 10-9, the team then got three points from Savannah Whisman, as well as one from Makenna Belcher and two from Ashlynn Belcher to open up some breathing room.
Things would get tense down the stretch, though. Three points from Dickson trimmed a six-point lead in half at 22-19. However, the Scots would be able to hold off their opponents and tie things up at one apiece.
The third set was another back-and-forth contest. Two points by Makenna Belcher gave the Scots an early lead, but John Glenn battled back to go in front 10-7. Five points from Eusey allowed Highland to regain their advantage and two from Ashlynn Belcher and two more from Walters increased that lead to a 19-15 margin.
Unfortunately for the Scots, their opponents would rally. A defensive score and three from Layni Gillespie tied the score at 19. Then, trailing 22-21, the team got two from Dickson to surge in front of Highland. A defensive score tied the game at 23, but the Muskies would get their own stop, followed by a point from Lyndi Slack, to claim the two-point win.
Early in the fourth set, it was looking like another closely-contested game. However, with a 9-6 lead, the Scots got three from Stover to open up a six-point advantage. They would build on that lead, getting four from Makenna Belcher to turn a 14-8 lead into a 10-point margin. Leading 19-9, Highland got five points from Ashlynn Belcher to get one point away from sending it to a fifth game, which they accomplished quickly after giving the ball back to their opponents.
“We’ve only played four sets twice,” said Terrill. “When we got to a fifth, it’d be a real challenge. Once we were able to get ahold of things in the fourth, we weren’t going to be denied in the fifth.”
Both teams struggled to gain traction in that fifth set, but when Highland did, they immediately put an end to the contest. Makenna Belcher took the ball with the score tied 7-7 in a game where neither team had shown much success in stringing points together. That came to an end, though, as the junior tallied eight straight points to shock the Muskies and give her Scots a 15-7 decision and a trip to Saturday’s regional finals.
Terry finished with 25 kills and three blocks in the match. Stover had 13 kills, Makenna Belcher added eight kills and five aces, Ashlynn Belcher finished with five kills and four aces and Gena West had five kills and four blocks.
Highland’s next opponent will be Dover, a team the coach expects to provide a tough challenge.
“They put pressure on you all the time,” he said. “They have hitters that change directions and they don’t use one hitter; they have five out there. It’s just a lot of pressure — it’ll be a fun match.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS