After an easy first set, Cardington found themselves in a tough fight with Fairbanks in their Division III volleyball district final, but were able to overcome the Panthers in claiming a 25-7, 25-23, 25-23 win.
With the win, the Pirates advanced to Saturday’s district finals — also at Mount Vernon Nazarene University — where they will take on Northridge in a battle of the top two seeds in the Central District.
“We talked about this,” said head coach Ryan Treese. “This is our fourth trip here. We took the energy in the first set. I don’t know if it was nerves (on their part), but it could have been a little too easy.”
The Pirates opened the contest by getting seven straight points from Cadie Long and never looked back. Emalee Artz added a six-point run and Madison Linkous finished the set with three points, as Cardington cruised to an easy win.
The second set was not as easy. After three points from Audrey Brininger staked the Pirates to a 5-1 lead, Fairbanks went on a run. Two points each from Olivia Vollrath and Zoe Schmidt helped the team tie Cardington at 8-8 and the Panthers would then ride successful serving from Grace Gorton, Kaelynn Sphapmixay and Allie Boyd to a 19-12 lead.
However, the Pirates would battle back. A defensive point and five straight from Brininger brought them within one. With the score tied at 21, Lily Clark mustered two straight points to give her team the lead and Maggie Wade added the final point to give Cardington a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Pirates would take that momentum into the third set, getting one point from Long, four from Brininger and one more by Jadine Mills to lead 8-2. A bit later, three points by Linkous staked the team to a 14-8 advantage, but that lead wouldn’t be safe.
Fairbanks gradually cut into the advantage, tying the score at 21-21 after a pair of points from Anna Higbee. Fortunately for the Pirates, they would get a defensive stop to regain the lead and then got two points from Long to reach game and match point at 24-21. The Panthers got a defensive point and one from Boyd to close within one, but another stop by Cardington would send them one step farther into the tournament.
“In the second set, we were down seven and won 25-23,” said Treese. “I’m proud of that. In the third set, they called a time out and they just chipped and chipped. A point here or there could have been the difference.”
Brininger finished with 14 kills and 11 digs in the match, while Payton Goodman had 13 kills. Izzy Wickline tallied four blocks and Olivia Holt recorded three. Mills finished with 31 assists and eight digs, Long had 15 digs and Kayleigh Ufferman had seven.
With the win, Cardington advanced to the district finals for the third straight year. Now, the goal is to get over the hump and reach regionals.
“This will be our third year in a row being in the district finals,” said Treese. “I think the belief is there, but we have to do it in every set. I think we serve and serve receive better than most teams and think that will be key. I believe we’re here for a reason. We’ve been building this for four years now and we’re not done.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS