FAIRBORN ? Better than advertised.
Buckeye Central volleyball coach Bill Bonham knew Marion Local had an arsenal of big hitters but he didn't know about its secret weapon: Gina Kramer.
Kramer, along with the big guns of Claire Heitkamp and Josie Winner, hammered a combined 41 kills as the Flyers (25-3) knocked off the Buckettes on Friday afternoon in the semifinal of the Division IV state volleyball tournament at the Nutter Center at Wright State University.
And after seeing the Flyers beat his squad, 25-18, 25-21, 30-28, he has little doubt what will happen today when Marion Local faces Kidron Central Christian, who beat Beaver Eastern in the other semifinal.
"Not to take anything away from those two teams that played this (afternoon), but the Marion Local team is pretty damn tough," he said. "I think that's your state champion, right there. Boy, they're good. That's by far the best overall team we've faced this season."
Marion Local coach Amy Steininger said the Buckettes were a worthy foe.
"Buckeye Central was a formidable opponent like we thought they would be," she said. "They had great ball control tonight, aggressive serving and it took us out of our offense a little bit, but we still did well out of system. We still managed to hit .264 as a team so that's a credit to our setter Hannah Arling and our hitters for doing a good job even when the passes weren't there."
Kramer and Heitkamp each had 14 kills and Winner had 13 in a cyclone of 159 attacks by the Flyers.
"We knew about Josie Winner and we knew about Claire Heitkamp but we didn't realize she (Kramer) was going to bring what she brought. Any time you have three hitters like that to go to that are that big, and not only that big, but man, they get off the floor," Bonham said. "Amy's got some great talent right there and we faced a really, really good team today."
But it wasn't just Marion Local's vicious attacks that keyed the victory. It was the Flyers' ability to close out sets.
In the first two sets, Marion Local and Buckeye Central (26-3) had been tied late in the match only to see the Flyers pull away in the final points to take home the victory.
While they didn't have the late lead in the third game, time and time again the Flyers came back from deficits late to tie it up and ultimately put the game away.
"We've really talked about that: once we get to 20 points, just really executing those last five points because those seem to be the hardest to get," Steininger said. "You see a lot of teams that are not as aggressive those last few points at the end of the set because maybe their nervous to not make a mistake. So we really want to be aggressive at the end of those sets: serving aggressive, hitting aggressive. You'll notice we don't do a lot of tipping or offspeed shots at the end of the sets. We really just try to play clean volleyball and execute with the aggressive shots at the end of the sets."
Bonham said their closing ability was a killer.
"We let up just enough at the (end of sets) that they capitalized on," Bonham said. "When you have the power like that, it's easy to rely on. The power and the height (were both key). They definitely have the closing power."
In the first set, that manifested itself with Buckeye Central leading 16-15. On four of the next five points, Kramer killed a ball to put the Flyers in front for good, 20-16. Two more kills from Winner and a block combo from Winner and Heitkamp helped close out the 10-2 surge that gave Marion Local the set.
Buckeye Central led the second set 6-1 before the Flyers called a timeout. By the time Bonham did the same, the Flyers had cut it to 9-8.
"We haven't been starting off strong in sets this whole tournament run," Steininger said. "We just seem to start off slow for some reason. But if we manage to get the lead, we do a good job of holding it and we do a good job of finishing off the sets. But we start off slow for some reason."
The two squads tied it up five times before it reached 18-all. Then came the Flyers' close out routine. Two Winner kills and another three from Kramer helped the Flyers finish of the Buckettes in the second set, 25-21.
Bonham said by the end of the second set, his team had adjusted to how high the Flyers played above the net.
"It was timing and that goes to the level, that height that they play at," he said. "We haven't seen that many teams that play that high. Even when we played McComb in the regionals, they were big but they didn't play that high because they didn't have the vertical. These girls have the vertical so that threw our timing off on the blocks where we were just slightly off on catching up to them. We told our blockers earlier in the game that we just had to be a little quicker getting up in the air. As soon as we hesitated with them, they were just out-jumping us, and that's what happens when you run into great athletes."
The final set featured 18 ties and six lead changes. Late in the set, Buckeye Central was on the doorstep of victory, 24-22, when Sammi Marcum put down one of her team-high 14 kills. But a Heitkamp kill and two hitting errors put the Flyers in control, 25-24.
But the Buckettes weren't done. Two straight points, including one from one of Maddie Williams' 13 kills, put Buckeye Central on the doorstep again.
Heitkamp tied it at 26 with a kill and Marcum answered with a kill of her own. Hannah Heitbrink, who had nine kills herself, helped keep the set alive with a kill. Winner put the Flyers in front 28-27 before Williams kept the match alive with a spectacular dig that sailed over the net and off a Flyers' player and out of bounds to tie it at 28.
But that was the last of the heroics, as it was Kramer and then fittingly enough, Winner, with the game winner.
"Their kids brought their defense to the floor. That was one thing we were hoping to take advantage of: was a vulnerable defense on serve receive and they fought it," Bonham said. "They stepped up to the plate and they fought us. They did well. And obviously, anytime you can get their hitters the ball, they're going to score and make you pay for it."
Emily Weithman had 16 assists and Kilee Kimmel had 15 for Buckeye Central. Williams and Brooke Karl each had a team-high 21 digs, more than half of Buckeye Central's 81 on the night. Marcum had 14 and Weithman added 11.
"I have to give credit to Buckeye Central. The girls even said in the locker room that they're a good team. It was hard to get points on them because their defense is so good and so scrappy," Steininger said. "Bill is a great coach. I know he had them prepared for this game today. They played like we thought they would play. They should feel very proud and they had a great match tonight."
The loss marked the end of the careers for Marcum, Kendra Schultz and Miranda Kintz.
"It felt amazing. It was the perfect way to end my senior season," Schultz said of reaching the state tourney.
"It's definitely a great accomplishment and all of us are very lucky to be able to do what this group of girls has done," Marcum said. "I couldn't picture it without these guys."
The Flyers move on to face the Comets at 3 p.m. today in the Division IV final.