FOSTORIA - New Riegel's Taylor Arbogast calmly grabbed the ball and stepped behind the service line. A smile crept across her face.
Roughly five seconds later, Arbogast's smile grew exponentially larger as her serve was knocked off into the crowd by Arlington. There was nothing calm any more about her, her team or its fans. Instead, there was an eruption of emotions.
New Riegel had just won the district championship.
"I just went back there and smiled. I'm like 'I got this,'" Arbogast said of when she went back to serve what became the championship winning point. "As soon as I saw it, I was so happy."
For one of the rare times during their undefeated season, New Riegel was pushed to four games by a tough Arlington squad. But the Blue Jackets persevered to take the Division IV district championship at Fostoria, 25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 25-20.
Many of the girls that led New Riegel Thursday night have been on the floor the last two years when the Blue Jackets fell in the title match.
As coach Cindy Walerius was told before the game, the third time was the charm.
"This is our third time, and my son said right before he goes 'third times a charm.' So I guess it was," she said. "We're pretty excited. It didn't come easy, we had to really fight for it."
After the match, the players proudly sported their gold medals around their necks. A pleasant change from the silver they walked away with the last two years.
"It means everything. It means the world to me right now, I'm so excited," Arbogast said. "Falling short the past two years, it was really disappointing. Finally coming out and getting a win in this game, it just means everything to us."
"It feels pretty awesome," New Riegel senior Alexis Kieffer added. "Last couple years, we made district finals and we haven't made it on. It feels so awesome that we get to make it to regionals this year. I'm pumped."
Each of the night's four games were tightly contested, but Walerius was glad her team could come out on the better end more times than not.
"I give a lot of credit to my kids," she said. "They fought through this game. There were times when things weren't going their way, but they did a great job, and Arlington too, what a great team. I hate to see anybody lose because these were two really good teams, but they really fought us hard and I'm really happy to come away with a win."
In a match with so many key moments, it's hard to pinpoint any particular point as a turning point. But a big one came in the opening game with the teams tied at 18. Blue Jacket libero Brittany Gillig made two diving digs to keep a rally going.
The ball eventually came off the net and Kieffer sent it over to an open spot on the floor on Arlington's side, giving New Riegel a 19-18 lead. New Riegel took six of the next seven points to claim the game and match lead.
"It was amazing. I didn't want to let any balls drop," Gillig said. "I was being really aggressive back there."
"When we get down, we just get our points back," Kieffer said. "When everyone starts clicking and everyone comes together, we work great as a team like that. Brittany had awesome digs and we were able to get them up and kill them."
Arlington, though, didn't get deflated for the second game. The Red Devils fought the Blue Jackets closely the entire game, which was tied at 22. But once again it was the Blue Jackets who were able to close it out. Kills by Arbogast and Kara Scherger set them up at game-point, which Lauren Ladd put down for her eighth and final kill of the game.
"We were right in there, I thought the girls played well. We had some trouble finishing," Arlington coach Dianna Inbody said. "New Riegel's a good team, so credit to them. I thought our girls played well overall tonight. We just needed to close some of those matches out when we had the opportunity."
New Riegel sat one game away from the elusive district championship, but Arlington wasn't going to simply let the Blue Jackets have it. Arlington built a 23-18 Game 3 lead, but saw it evaporate as New Riegel rallied for a 25-24 advantage.
This time, though, it was Arlington that was able to close, taking the final three points to keep its season alive.
"Last year and maybe even the year before when we lost a game, you can just tell they tensed up," Walerius said, stating a concern about how her team would respond to dropping a game. "But, I really haven't seen that this year. They just know they can always come back no matter what. Even in that third game, how far were we down? And we came back and tied it at 24 and even took the lead. They never thought for one minute that they couldn't win that third game. They've matured so much in the last few years and I'm very proud of them."
As to be expected, Game 4 was another close affair, tied at 17. But, just as in the first two, New Riegel pushed ahead and sealed its trip to regionals.
Ladd finished the night with 22 kills. Arbogast chipped in 18 and Scherger 17. Morgan Noftz tossed up 38 assists.
Arlington (21-5) was led by senior Lindsay Werst with 19 kills. Britnee Johnson added 15 and Lauren Willow 14.
"We had some losses in the regular season and we knew we didn't want to go down in three," Inbody said. "I told them to fight in there and they did just that. They played really hard. They fought tooth-and-nail for every point. They earned that third win. I thought we'd have a little more energy going into the fourth game, but we fought back in there as well, just came up on the short end."
New Riegel (25-0) finds itself in the Sweet 16. The Blue Jackets play a regional semifinal Halloween night in Elida against Toledo Christian, who won the district championship Thursday in Defiance.
The Blue Jackets overcame two years of frustration to finally lift the district championship trophy. It was a good feeling, but it's one they want to repeat next week at regionals.
"It feels amazing. This is what our goal was," Gillig said. "We always wanted to go far, now we want to go even farther."