- Debbie Juniewicz Contributing Writer
It will be a Midwest Athletic Conference showdown in the Division III state volleyball title match Saturday.
Coldwater swept Independence, 25-19, 25-21, 25-23, and Versailles fought off a late comeback attempt by Tuscarawas Valley, 25-17, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, Friday to set up the conference battle for state bragging rights.
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“It’s awesome, just to have another MAC competition,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “It’s so fun to coach against them.”
“Fun” might not have been the first term that came to mind for the Cavaliers semifinal opponent.
“Coldwater is a very good team, they exposed a lot of our holes,” Independence coach Megan Osysko said.
The Coldwater game plan was simple – control the errors and control the runs. The Cavaliers, now 28-1, did both. The balanced Coldwater attack kept the Blue Devils on their heels as Lauren Gilliland, Allison Sudhoff and Tasha Kahlig all posted double-digit kills with Gilliland leading the way with 13.
“We think we have a lot of offensive weapons,” Coldwater coach Nikki Etzler said. “It makes us very challenging for other teams.”
Independence controlled the tempo early, leading for much of the opening set but the Cavaliers offense started clicking as Coldwater snagged the lead and the momentum.
“In any match, the first set is when you look at what they do and what we can do effectively against them,” Etzler said.
Once the Cavaliers – making their first tournament appearance in 23 years – settled down, there was no turning back. Coldwater carried the momentum into the second set as the Cavaliers led from the opening point.
Coldwater – in the hunt for its first state volleyball title – will face a familiar foe in the title match Saturday at 3 p.m. in Versailles. The Cavaliers came out on top, 3-1, in the MAC rivals regular season meeting.
But the Tigers pay little attention to records, especially after facing a Trojans team on Friday that hadn’t lost a set all season – much less a match. Last year’s state runner-up Tuscarawas Valley was 28-0 heading into the state semifinal. Versailles was 22-6.
“The MAC is such a strong conference and that’s who our losses are to,” Bruggeman said. “That prepares us so well for situations like this.”
Right-side hitter Elizabeth Ording led the Tigers with 16 kills while middle blocker Danielle Winner was close behind with 15. Versailles – making its sixth state appearance – last won the state championship in 2013.
The MAC has a third team battling for a state title Saturday, as New Bremen, 27-1, will face St. Thomas Aquinas, 23-3, for the D-IV crown at 1 p.m. at the Nutter Center.
After close to two hours on the court and a combined 193 points, the first one to 15 would move on to the state final.
Big Walnut came up with a big comeback as the Golden Eagles battled to a 22-25, 19-25, 28-26, 25-23, 15-9 win in the Division II state volleyball semifinals. A week earlier, it was Alter that battled back from being down three set points against Fenwick in the regional tournament.
“We gave them (Big Walnut) an open door and they took it and ran with it,” Alter coach Tina Jasinowski said. “I think we got complacent and didn’t take care of the ball well.”
It was a seesaw battle early with 10 ties and six lead changes in the opening set. Strong serving, including a pair of aces by defensive specialist Hannah Hall, gave the Knights some breathing room with a 5-0 run midway through the opening set – translating a 13-13 tie into a 18-13 lead. Big Walnut didn’t back down, knotting the contest at 21-21 late. Alter seniors Abby Shaffer and Alex Trame came up big, closing out the opening set with back-to-back kills for the Knights.
Big Walnut jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead in the second set but it was short-lived as the Knights wrestled away the lead and the momentum with an 8-2 run. Alter never trailed again in the set, taking a two-set lead after another ace by Hall, who finished with six on the night.
But the Golden Eagles responded in a must-win marathon third set, 28-26, and Big Walnut maintained the momentum in the fourth set. It was knotted at two sets apiece.
Five-set matches are nothing new for the Knights – as this was their sixth of the season – but, this time, Alter couldn’t muster a lead, quickly falling behind 7-1.
“I think we have a team that could have won this match, but we took our eye off the ball and got away from our game plan,” Jasinowski said. “It stinks, but we got outplayed in the last two sets.”
While Big Walnut has played two other five-set matches this season, the Golden Eagles aren’t accustomed to mounting comebacks.
“This is the biggest hole we’ve climbed out of,” Big Walnut coach Ron Lehman said. “When we came back in the third set, I thought ‘if we win this, we’re winning the match,’ and we did.”
The veteran Alter team finished the season 21-7 and will graduate seven seniors.
“This is a great group of girls, they’re really close,” Jasinowski said. “I think they’re more sad about the season being over than the loss.”