It might not have been easy, but the Highland volleyball team won its second straight Division II district title and sixth in the past 10 years on Saturday.
Competing against Bloom Carroll at Westerville Central, the Scots won the first two sets by scores of 25-23 and 25-14. However, the Bulldogs rallied to win the third 25-19 and then held off a Highland comeback to take the fourth by a 27-25 margin. In a deciding fifth set, the two teams played evenly until two straight Scot points gave them a 16-14 win and sent them to Vandalia Butler, where they’ll play Hamilton Badin in the regional semifinals.
“This group has worked really hard,” said head coach Rob Terrill. “I felt this team could improve more from any team I’ve had from the beginning to the end. Our top six hitters were setters and DSs in club. We had to learn how to hit and all year, we’ve seemed to have more kills than any team we’ve played except Hartley.”
Terrill noted that he was expecting a close match because when he looked at Bloom Carroll, he saw a team that reminded me a lot of his own.
“We had a game plan and it wasn’t complicated because I thought they were a mirror image of us,” he said. “We just needed to capitalize on a couple things. First two sets, we did a good job of it and then got out of it in three and four. At the end, I felt we persevered and continued to play hard and play smart.”
Highland got out to a 1-0 lead in the match thanks to a late-set comeback. The teams had played evenly for most of the set, with a three-point run by Alexis Eusey finally giving the Scots a bit of breathing room at 19-15. However, with the score 20-16, the Bulldogs got seven straight points to hold a three-point advantage.
The Scots would get a defensive point, though, and Camryn Miller responded with four straight serves for points to give her team a come-from-behind 25-23 win.
Highland took that momentum into the second set, getting an eight point run from Kameron Stover to take an 11-3 lead. A four-point run from Larsen Terrill made it 19-9 and the Scots were never threatened in winning 25-14.
The teams played closely against each other for half of the third set, but after two points by Zoya Winkelfoos staked Highland to a 13-11 lead, the Bulldogs turned it on, took the lead and pulled away for a 25-19 win.
They would then lead for most of the fourth set, but Highland would make it very interesting at the very end. Trailing 23-17, they got two points from Miller. Then, facing a 24-20 deficit, the Scots scored five straight points behind the serving of Winkelfoos.
With the score 25-24 in favor of Highland, a potential match-winning serve fell just long to give the ball back to the Bulldogs with the score tied at 25. They would then pick up two points off their serve to send the match to five.
Despite not being able to complete the comeback in the fourth, Terrill felt his team showed a lot of heart in that set.
“We had a good run at the end of the fourth set and came back there and I think that’s a tribute to the girls,” he said. “You can’t just think about the ones we win — you’ve got to think, ‘Did we put pressure on them?’.
Neither team could get any separation in a tense back-and-forth fifth set. Highland had an early 3-1 lead, but BC bounced back to lead 7-6. A defensive point and a point served by Alexis Eusey gave the Scots a one-point lead and the team would then be the first to 10 points at 10-9.
“When we hit 10, I said it’s just a set to five,” said Stover. “We got it. It means a lot. More numbers up on the wall. We played very well, very competitive and came back.”
With the score tied at 11, Highland got two points from Winkelfoos, but the Bulldogs were able to keep it close, blocking a match point at 14-13. However, with the score 15-14, Brooke Schott was able to serve for a score and send the Scots to regionals.
Larsen Terrill felt that people might have counted the Scots out this year after graduating a talented senior class that included All-Ohioans Ashlynn Belcher and Kendall Stover.
“After last year, we were expected to do not so good, so I’m really proud of our team for stepping up and playing for our seniors and our team,” she said. “Overall, I’m just really proud of our whole team and how we played for each other.”
Coach Terrill agreed that his team played well as a team in claiming the district title.
“I’m real proud of the girls,” he said. “We played tough and hung in there and didn’t give up on each other. It was just a great game. I knew it’d be a tough match. I don’t know if I thought it’d be 16-14 in the fifth set, but hey!”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS