For nearly two hours, Highland and Bishop Fenwick were locked in a dogfight to be the Division II state champions in volleyball on Saturday at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
In a match where both teams struggled to maintain momentum due to being evenly matched, the 28-1 Falcons wound up the victors after four tightly-contested sets, winning by scores of 22-25, 25-22, 25-23 and 25-22.
“I thought we fought awfully hard,” said head coach Rob Terrill after the match. “I’m just so proud of the girls for how they fought and fought and fought. At 25-22, we’re talking one or two plays and you’re winning that set or losing that set. Three in a row was tough”
The first set set the standard for what fans would be seeing throughout the entire match on Saturday afternoon, as neither team could get any separation from the other. When Raina Terry served for the set-winning point, it was the only time in the match either team had led by more than two points.
Highland spent most of that game either tied with their opponents or trailing by one or two points, but got a defensive point and three from Ashlynn Belcher to turn a 20-18 deficit into a two-point lead. While Fenwick was able to get a stop to get back within one point, they would not be able to score on their serve for the remainder of the set, allowing Highland to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five match.
“Our game plan was to get them off kilter,” said Terrill. “We tried to do some things to move them around a little bit and stretch them out a little bit.”
The two teams continued to match each others’ runs in the second game. Two points by Terry gave Highland a 5-2 lead, but a defensive point and three served by Emma Schaefer put Fenwick on top by one. Two more points by Terry on her next trip to the service line put the Scots in front 16-13, but another four-point run by the Falcons gave them a 17-16 advantage.
This time, Highland would not be able to answer, as their final six serve attempts were unable to net points, allowing Fenwick to edge them and tie the match at one set apiece. The Scots had trouble handling the Falcon middle hitters, as quick sets to them resulted in a number of kills. Terrill felt that Fenwick deserved credit for how well they did at receiving serves and hits from his team, which set up those kills.
“Well, they were first in the state, first in MaxPreps and they just won state, so I’d think everyone was having trouble with that,” he said of those quick sets into kills. “Their first contact was super and allowed them to run that.”
The third set proved to be a heartbreaker for the Scots. The team got three-point bursts from Darcie Walters and Abby Eusey to help them go back-and-forth for much of the duration with their opponents. However, leading 19-18, the team got another three-point run by Terry to take a four-point lead late in the set.
That lead would not hold up, though. Two points by Sami Deidsheimer brought Fenwick within one point. Then, with the score 23-22 in favor of Highland, the Falcons got three straight points from Emma Goubeaux to come from behind and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
That was followed by a fast start to the fourth set by Fenwick, as four-point serving runs by Julia Gardon and Goubeaux staked the team to an 18-10 lead.
“Losing the third set was hard,” said Terry. “I don’t think it affected us (in the fourth set). We just didn’t execute as well as we wanted to.”
Highland would battle back in the fourth, though. Trailing 21-15, they got three straight from Makenna Belcher to climb within a 21-18 margin. Then, trailing 24-20, they got two in a row by Walters to get within two points before Fenwick was able to get a defensive point to win the set and match. Terry and Gena West, who both played on Highland’s 2016 state semifinalist squad, were hoping for a different conclusion in the final match of their high school career.
“We all knew with coming in here as seniors (along with Walters, Lillee Keltner and Savanna Whisman), it’d be a tough game because it’d be our last time playing together,” said West.
Terry added: “Thinking as a senior, it’s our last game and I wanted to leave it all out there. Also as a teammate, I wanted to leave it all out there.”
Terry definitely did end her career with a big match, as she tallied a match-high 26 kills and five aces and added a team-high 12 digs. Both Kendall Stover and Makenna Belcher finished with seven kills, with Belcher adding 11 digs and Stover seven. Ashlynn Belcher had 40 assists and nine digs. West and Stover both added four assisted blocks and Walters had six digs.
With an effort like that in a 25-5 season that ended with a state runner-up trophy, Terrill said his team has nothing to regret.
“We have nothing to be sad about other than it being our last game,” he said. “We had five losses to four Division I teams and to the Division II state champs.”
And he added that his senior class definitely left a big mark on the program.
“There’s a lot of kids who’d like to be in the state tournament two years and not lose a league match in four years,” he said. “They’ve been able to take the program a little farther every year.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS