When the Central District volleyball brackets were set, there was a strong likelihood one Division II district final would involve two of the top teams in the state in second-ranked Jonathan Alder and fifth-ranked Highland.
On Thursday, the Scots had no trouble in ensuring they’d be traveling to Plain City on Saturday for that title game, as they quickly dispatched visiting Hebron Lakewood by scores of 25-4, 25-8 and 25-17.
Highland started off the match aggressively and kept the Lancers on their heels over the course of the three sets.
“That was kind of the plan,” said head coach Rob Terrill. “We attacked from the beginning. I thought we did a pretty good job. We played 14 kids again and lost some continuity in the third.”
The first set was over almost as soon as it began. After the Scots got a defensive score to open the action, Ashlynn Belcher served seven straight points to stake the team to a commanding lead. With the score 9-2, the team got two points from Abby Eusey. Kendall Stover followed with three on her serve and, with the score 16-4, Zoya Winkelfoos gave Highland a 1-0 lead with nine straight serves for scores.
Highland got off to another fast start in the second set. After Makenna Belcher scored three times for the Scots and Camryn Martindale tallied two for the Lancers, the home team held a 4-3 lead. Ashlynn Belcher blew things open, though, with eight straight points. Eusey followed with one to make the score 14-4. A bit later, three points from Winkelfoos boosted the Scot lead to a 19-6 margin.
Highland’s defense would prevent Lakewood from scoring on their serve. Meanwhile, Emma West scored three points and Makenna Belcher finished the set with one point to put the Scots one set away from their date with Jonathan Alder, who also earned a 3-0 win when they competed against Fairbanks.
In the third set, Lakewood would keep the score close for a while. While the Scots got three points from Ashlynn Belcher and two from Winkelfoos, their opponents countered with two points each by Heather Young and Alexa Cummins to remain within a 9-8 margin.
However, after a defensive point gave Highland a two-point lead, they would get six straight from West to open up a 16-8 advantage. While Lakewood fought to stay in the contest, they would not be able to get closer than a 23-17 count before falling to the Scots in the final home match for seniors Makenna Belcher, Eusey and Cassady Sagar.
Up next for Highland, who advanced to their eighth district final match in the past 10 years: a powerful Jonathan Alder team which ended Highland’s season in the 2018 district finals during year in which Central District teams dominated the Division II state rankings.
“It will be a fun game on Saturday,” said Terrill. “Jonathan Alder is second in the state and undefeated. We played them two years ago in districts. They were just a bit better than us.”
The Scots, who will be looking for their fifth district championship after winning in the finals in 2013, 2014, 2016 and last year, got 14 kills from Stover against Lakewood. Makenna Belcher finished with 13 kills and Ashlynn Belcher had seven kills and six aces.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS