The Columbian volleyball team has come a long way in the short time Bill Bonham has been in control of the program. Thursday, the Tornadoes were six points away from providing a signature win to illustrate the progress that's been made. Those six points never came, and instead came a vicious reminder that there's a long way still to go.
Hosting 6-1 Bellevue, Columbian led the Redmen in games 2-1 and stormed out to a 19-11 advantage in what would be a deciding game four.
Columbian hitters Madison Williams and Haley Sendelbach were controlling the match and a victory looked like it would simply be a formality.
Bellevue, though, wasn't ready to get back on the bus and drive back home with the loss.
"We just stayed positive and kept our confidence up and we knew that we could beat them as long as we kept it together and played as a team," Bellevue's Amara Hemenway said.
And that's what happened.
Hemenway served Bellevue back into the game, getting within 19-16. Tara Rinner took over for there. The Bellevue junior slammed four kills down the stretch and got two more points off blocks to put the Redmen on the verge of a remarkable comeback. Hemenway slammed the final point down and Bellevue had rallied to tie the match.
The momentum stayed with Bellevue into the fifth game. The defense seemed to get to every potential Columbian kill and the offense was relentless. When it was done, Bellevue had pulled off a remarkable 23-25, 25-19, 25-20, 26-24, 15-5 victory.
"That's one thing with this group, they never give up. And that's something that I haven't had in a while, that they always fight back," Bellevue coach Karen Irons said. "Our motto is 'expect and demand it from yourself and your teammates.' They came out and they showed that tonight."
While the mood was a jubilant one on the Bellevue side post game, Bonham said his team's breakdown illustrates how far the program still has to go to reach the level.
"I thought we were making a lot of progress at this point and tonight, we went backwards quite a bit," he said. "We talked about not getting outplayed tonight. Whether or not we were the better team than them was yet to be determined, but our goal was not to get outplayed. Our goal was to play to win. Obviously that didn't happen, which from a coaching standpoint is a sign of mental weakness yet. That's something we need to get tougher at, we need to get stronger at. I'm not going to take it easy on them.
"They're not going to get anywhere if we accept this loss. I'm not going to accept this loss. And it's not the fact that we lost. We lost to a good Bellevue team; we lost to some good ballplayers. It's the way that we lost. We shut down in game four, that's unacceptable. We didn't even come out ready in game five, that's not acceptable. That's what we're not trying to teach them. We're trying to teach them to be tougher, we trying to teach them to earn what they get. We're trying to teach them, if you want something more, you have to go get it yourself. I thought we were getting better with that, and after tonight obviously we have a lot more to work on."
Columbian took a back-and-forth first game, scoring the final three points after being down 23-22 to get the win. After Bellevue responded in game two, Sendelbach came back to take over game three. The 6-1 junior had two kills and two more points off blocks, along with a kill from Michaela Sharlow to take an early 6-1 lead. Columbian built a 20-13 lead and held on for a 25-20 win.
Game four was more of the same early. Williams had four early kills, Tessa Fuhrer served a pair of aces and Sendelbach slammed another pair of kills to stake the Tornadoes to their 19-11 lead.
Sendelbach had 18 kills on the night for Columbian, Williams 17.
The rest of the night was all Bellevue.
"Lack of focus, lack of energy, lack of enthusiasm. Assuming the other team's just going to shut down and quit, assuming the other team's going to get frustrated and quit playing," Bonham listed as reasons his team couldn't close it out. "(Bellevue) started playing defense, they started scrapping and we didn't. We were standing up, we were watching the tips happen, we were watching our bad passes on defense so our offense wasn't ready. We had a breakdown."
Hemenway and Rinner led Bellevue each finishing with 13 kills.
"We know that we got to be leaders out there and we have to cheer everyone on and make everybody stay positive the whole game," Hemenway said.
Irons also praised the play of Janelle Watson who finished with 11 kills and the defense of libero Cassidy Fultz.
"They were playing great defense. My libero, she gets everything," Irons said. "She was reading well there in the last three games. We had the one short blocker on the right side, she was getting to where she needed to be, because Tiffin was using that, the smaller blocker on that side, to their advantage."
Bellevue moves to 7-1, 4-1 Northern Ohio League while Columbian falls to 6-4, 3-2.
Bonham said the mistakes that cost Columbian Thursday's match need to be corrected for TC to have success the rest of the way.
"The overall picture is, the way we shutdown has been a weakness of this program; it's a weakness of this team. That is the big picture at this point," he said. "Until we get stronger, we're not going to be able to win big games in the league, we're not going to be able to win big games in tournament. I know that sounds harsh, but that's the truth right now. Until we start believing more, and having more confidence and learning, that everything isn't going to happen automatically because you think it. You have to continue to play to earn it."