FINDLAY - Same teams. Same place. Same stakes.
One year after Mohawk dropped Midland Athletic League rival New Riegel in a district final at Findlay High School, starting the Warriors off on a road that ended at the state Final Four, the teams will meet again with another district title on the line.
The Warriors and Blue Jackets each posted three-game district semifinal victories Tuesday at Findlay. New Riegel held off Carey, 29-27, 26-24, 25-19, while Mohawk dispatched of Calvert 25-19, 25-7, 25-11 to set up a rematch Thursday.
New Riegel coach Cindy Walerius said she walked out of the gym last year with a bad taste in her mouth. The regular season encounter with the Warriors did little to ease that as Mohawk won in four. However, she said this game is the one she's been waiting for.
"Honestly, Ive been waiting a year," Walerius said. "That last year left a bad taste in my mouth and I've been waiting a year. And even when we played them in the regular season, yeah it was a good game, but I honestly didn't feel we deserved to win that night. We didn't not play as we could've or should've, and they definitely beat us, and I've been waiting for this.
"And I think the girls are too. They're ready and I'm sure Mohawk, they're ready for us too. It's such a rivalry."
"It's going to be intense; its going to be a lot of fun," Mohawk coach Eric Hoover said. "I know when we played them earlier in the year, all the games were close; it was a lot of fun. We were lucky enough to come out on top that time. I hope for the same. But they battled tonight and had a big test. So they're going to be ready."
Early in the night, New Riegel's spot in Thursday's final was far from a sure thing. Carey's senior Hannah Tong was an unstoppable force, slamming kills all over the gym at Findlay as the Blue Devils raced out to a 21-11 lead in the opening game, with Tong collecting eight kills during that stretch.
"She's just outstanding. When shes on, she's fun to watch," Carey coach Eric Vackert said of the University of Findlay recruit. "She came to play. She can pound that ball, and when she's on blocking the ball, she's tough to hit around. This year, she's really turned into an all around player. Passing the ball and even serving the ball."
Then things took a turn.
Walerius inserted Natalie Reinhart, a sophomore that spent the majority of the regular season playing JV ball, into serve. The result was 10 straight Blue Jacket points, drawing the game even.
"I just started this on Saturday, I let her come in to serve, because she's played JV all year and she has a really good serve," Walerius said. "We brought her in for that rotation and I'll tell you what, tonight it made me look like a genius, but she did a great job. That's hard to do coming off the bench. She's sitting there cold, and to come in to serve, and she served some bullets."
Carey, though, responded with back-to-back kills from Tong and one from Shelby Kin to bring the Blue Devils to game-point. However, New Riegel fought it off, just like it would two more times in the game, before finally taking the game 29-27.
Taylor Arbogast had eight of her team-high 16 kills in the first game, four of those came after Carey hit 24 on the scoreboard.
"Well, we're playing one of the better teams in the state of Ohio," Vackert said. "We talked about that we had to keep our cool, because they're going to make some runs, they're going to make some plays. You notice I burnt those timeouts real quick ... just to try to hold on. But you know, I thought we gave it everything we had. But I thought if we could get that first game, (it would have) put some pressure on them. Being 14-9 and playing a state-ranked team, we had nothing to lose."
The second game nearly matched the drama of the first game. Carey held a 14-11 lead, only to see New Riegel go on a 12-1 run to take what seemed to be a commanding 23-15 lead. This time it was Carey's turn to rally. Tong had five kills during a 9-1 Carey run that tied the game at 24. Kara Scherger, though, put down the next two kills to give New Riegel the game and a 2-0 advantage.
"When it got close I though 'oh we can pull this out because we've been here before,'" Walerius said. "We've been in these pressure situations. I want to think it was our experience that got us through that first two."
Carey had game three within two at 17-15, but Arbogast and Scherger helped New Riegel pull way to seal the match.
Scherger finished with 11 kills and eight digs while Lauren Ladd had 15 kills. Tong finished with 22 kills for Carey.
The second match saw an opening game battle between Mohawk and Calvert. The game was tied eight times early on, and every time Mohawk looked to pull away, Calvert was ready with an answer. Mohawk led by only one, at 19-18, before finally getting some separation, ending the game on a 6-1 run.
Hoover said he thought some nerves played into the first game.
"Every game there's going to be a little nerves at the beginning from both teams, I think. A little feeling out period where you go back and fourth," he said. "And thats what happened that first half of the game. We made a lot of unforced errors, some net violations and those kind of things. After that, once we got going at the end of that game, we never really looked back."
Mohawk erased any hope of a Calvert rally in the second game early, jumping out to a 15-1 lead. Including a period of nine-straight points served by Julie Adelsperger.
Meridith Lucius put down three kills in a row to give Calvert a glimmer of hope, but Mohawk's serve was tough for Calvert to handle. Taylor McClain picked up four aces toward the end of the game as Mohawk cruised to a second game victory.
"We served well," Hoover said. "We kept them out of their offense, got a lot of easier balls for us to play. So we were just attacking all the time. They were always on defense. It felt like we were always attacking."
"We just knew that in order to win the game and get ahead, we had to get our serves in. We were just serving them as hard as we could," Adelsperger said. "I think thats what pushed us the rest of the way, that big run that we had with all those serves, gave us a lot of momentum for the other two games."
Mohawk took control early in game 3 going up 9-2 and steadily increasing the lead the rest of the way, before Sarah Parker put down her 14th and final kill of the match to send Mohawk back to the district final.
"We knew what we were facing with Mohawk," Calvert coach Greg Hendrix said. "We came out that first set and the girls gave it everything they had and they fought and we weren't able to pull that first one out. It just seemed like it deflated them. I thought the last win we got, they had learned to be able to fight through adversity. You just got to take your hat off to Mohawk."