Blue Jackets roll on
FOSTORIA – Is the third time really the charm? That won’t be known until Thursday, but New Riegel earned a chance to find out. The Blue Jackets advanced to their third straight Division IV district championship match by topping Carey in a semifinal at Fostoria, 25-13, 25-20, 25-12.
New Riegel will face Arlington in Thursday’s final. The Red Devils were victorious in Tuesday’s other semifinal over Calvert, 26-28, 25-23, 25-17, 25-20.
The night started with Arlington and Calvert taking the court and the Seneca’s didn’t back down from the Red Devils – the No. 15 team in the state in the final coaches poll. Calvert stormed out to a 14-9 lead in the opening game.
Arlington fought back, surviving three game-points after Calvert held a 24-21 lead. Arlington had a pair of game-points of its own but couldn’t close, thanks to kills from Calvert’s Meridith Lucius and Lindsay Bickley. A pair of Arlington mis-hits after that gave the opening game to Calvert.
Arlington led nearly the entire way in Game 2 but once again had trouble closing out Calvert. Calvert fought off three more game-points, cutting a 24-20 deficit to 24-23, but a tip from Lindsay Werst finally put away the Senecas.
Calvert coach Greg Hendrix said not being able to take that second game went a long way into setting the tone for the rest of the night.
“The girls fought hard; I really can’t be upset,” Hendrix said. “I expect them to work hard when they step on that floor. This is a match that we felt like, we knew it was going to be a tough match and could go either way. We came out that first set and took control. Second set we were right there. Letting that second set go was the one that really hurt us. If we could’ve taken that second match, had them up 2, we would’ve had them on the ropes. And we didn’t close. That’s been our weakness. We haven’t been able to close in tight matches like that.”
The third game was once again close early. Midway through, Calvert clung to a 13-12 lead. But Werst and Lauren Willow keyed a 13-4 run to close out the game and give Arlington the lead in the match. Werst led Arlington with 17 kills and Willow chipped in 13.
“The girls worked really hard. I’m proud of them for how they battled,” Arlington coach Dianna Inbody said. “I thought that we came out a little bit slow, but they fought in there that first game and then sets 2, 3 and 4 I thought we were playing some of our best ball. So we got better as the sets went on. And that’s what we ask for.”
With Calvert’ season on the line, the Senecas kept pace with Arlington for most of Game 4, but the Arlington blockers had a huge game with eight points coming directly off blocks.
“We were trying to work the entire last couple practices on setting off the net a little bit,” Hendrix said. “Some of the sets were getting way to tight to the net and putting our hitters right into the block. Every level you go up in this tournament play, you got to get off that net because you can’t put it right into the block of the other team, and we did that way too much tonight.”
Arlington took a 19-13 lead, but Calvert fought to get within two at 21-19. But Brittany Johnson killed four of Arlington’s final five points to close out the match. Johnson finished with 15 kills.
“When she’s on, Brittany’s on,” Inbody said. “She’s a great leader on this team. She puts the ball away when we need to and she really stepped up for us tonight. And it might be someone else next time. But that’s what teammates do and she did an excellent job of closing out that fourth game.”
New Riegel, ranked third in the state, came into its match having already beaten Carey during the regular season. But Blue Jacket coach Cindy Walerius said the goal was for her team to come into Tuesday’s match focused, knowing anything can happen.
“They were focused tonight,” she said. “I told them, we talked about the teams that got upset on Saturday, we talked about how we had been upset a few years ago. … We really focused on the things that could happen and making sure it didn’t happen. Our focus tonight was just coming in and knowing we had to play hard from the very get-go and push it all the way through.”
The Blue Jackets certainly did that, breaking open a game that was once 8-7 with a 12-2 run. Lauren Ladd had seven for her 16 kills in the opener.
“We wanted to come out strong to begin with,” Ladd said. “Sometimes we tend to take it a little easy at first, but we just wanted to come out strong. We got it in our heads to work hard at the beginning and let it go after that.”
“I thought we hit really well. We had several kills tonight,” Walerius said. “Our kill efficiency for a couple girls had to be really high. Give Carey a lot of credit. They’re a good blocking team. And I think even when they did block us, we were there to play it up, too. We’re just very happy and excited to go on for the next game.”
Carey fought New Riegel even for most of the way through the second game. The game was tied at 17 with Shelby Kin, Logan Johnson and Makenzie Wentling matching kills with New Riegel’s big three hitters of Ladd, Taylor Arbogast and Kara Scherger. But Arbogast had four kills and an ace during an 8-3 run to end the game. The Blue Jackets carried over the momentum into a decisive third game to seal their spot in the final, and bring an end to Carey’s season.
“I told my girls I thought they played hard. We left it on the court, played as hard as we could,” Carey coach Eric Vackert said. “At times, we played with them. At times. But the key thing, they were more consistent throughout the night and they go on some runs there and we didn’t have any answer.”
Vackert said part of his team’s problem was that it struggled on what he termed “out-of-system plays,” when the rallies were extended due to excess scrambling for loose balls.
“I thought we weren’t very good on out-of-system plays, out-of-system balls,” he said. “Or if (New Riegel) would get a block, we would freak out. We needed to control the ball a little bit better. Against a team like New Riegel, who doesn’t ever let the ball hit the ground on the defensive side, you got to give yourself more chances.”
Not letting the ball touch the floor is something New Riegel prides itself on.
“Cindy always tells us ‘if the ball drops we all lose.’ It’s on the back of our T-shirts,” New Riegel’s Morgan Noftz said. “If we don’t go for the ball, she’s going to be pretty mad probably so if it’s in the air still, we’re still diving on the floor.”
Scherger finished with 11 kills and Arbogast tallied 10. Noftz tossed up 25 assists, although the Blue Jacket setter says her teammates make her job easy.
“I always tell them I have the easiest job out there,” she said. “I just know if I put it up in the air they’re going to slam it down, even if the set’s not so good.”
Carey finishes the year with a 16-9 record. The 16 wins are the program’s most since 1997. Kin led the Blue Devils with 10 kills and Sydney Wentling handed out 27 assists.
Also, Logan Johnson in her final high school match, picked up 11 digs giving her 806 for her career, the most in school history, bettering Paige Roszman’s previous record by two.
New Riegel (24-0) and Arlington (21-4) meet Thursday to decide who moves on to the Sweet 16. New Riegel beat Arlington in four games on Oct. 5. New Riegel also has the advantage of playing the last two district finals, although coming out on the losing end. Noftz said she feels this year’s team is better prepared to get over the hump.
“This year hopefully we’re able to push through,” she said. “I feel like this year, even when we’re down we still fell like we’re still on top. It doesn’t get to us as much, the pressure doesn’t get to us as much. We’re juniors and seniors now for the most part and I feel like that will help us in the long run.”