Rams win district title thriller

ATTICA – Mohawk came back so many times Saturday against Upper Sandusky, no one would’ve been surprised if the Warriors had one more in them.

The Rams reached 20 points first in each of the first four games Saturday, but yet the resilient Warriors were able to force the Division III district championship at Seneca East to a fifth game.

Upper Sandusky scored the first six points in the winner-take-all game, and held a 12-7 lead, three points away from the team’s first district title.

Once again, Mohawk fought back getting within a single point. But the Rams weren’t giving this one up. Jessi Holly put down a kill to stop Mohawk’s run and Molly Owens won a point off a block setting up Upper Sandusky at game-point.

Perhaps it was fitting that one of the program’s best players ever got to deliver perhaps its biggest win ever. Taylor Graboski has committed to play for Valparaiso next year, but it’s not time to suit up for the Crusaders; her career at Upper Sandusky isn’t over. Graboski slammed home the winning point, giving the Rams their first district volleyball championship in school history.

Upper Sandusky took a thriller from Mohawk 25-17, 23-25, 26-24, 22-25, 15-11.

“It was an amazing feeling just because I knew that we’re going to regionals,” Graboski said of hitting the winning point. “All the other plays and mess-ups that we were having earlier throughout the game didn’t even matter because that signified we’re going.”

After decisively winning the first game, Upper Sandusky held a 21-15 lead in Game 2, only to see Mohawk battle back to take the game. The Rams edged out Game 3, but lost another late lead in Game 4, tying up the match.

Rams coach Matthew McConnaughey said despite losing the momentum, his team never lost its composure all afternoon.

“We were able to be composed,” he said. “We got out of system a couple times. They are very smart about placing the ball and we had a little trouble with that. Took us a while to adjust to it. I give a lot of credit to Mohawk. They’re well coach; they’re a great team. This is the kind of match you should have for a district championship.”

“We kept our head up,” Upper Sandusky sophomore Molly Owens said. “As soon as we get our heads down, we know we’re done, so we need to stay positive and happy. That’s all we had to do.”

Owens must’ve been real happy after three kills and a block helped stake the Rams to a six-point lead.

“As a coach I’m proud to see anybody step up,” McConnaughey said. “(Owens) did a good job of keying on their two hitters. We had a set game plan we wanted to execute. We got a couple big blocks in that set. I think our serve-receive was better. I think our serve-receive let us down a little bit in a couple of the other games. When we can stay in system and run our offense we’re very hard to stay with.”

But, as was the case all match, Mohawk battled back.

“I know they’d fight back. They’re a scrappy team, which is really good in volleyball,” Owens said. “The hitters definitely don’t like that. But, it was a little scary.”

Kasey and Julie Adelsperger led the charge for Mohawk to get back within a point at 12-11. Kasey put down 28 kills on the night and Julie added 17, with a third triplet, Clara Adelsperger, setting them up to the tune of 47 assists. But one final comeback just wasn’t in the cards.

“They played hard, as hard as anybody I’ve seen play,” Mohawk coach Eric Hoover said of his team. “Doesn’t matter what they do, they’re going to give their best and compete like crazy. That’s just how they are, how they’re built. I was fortunate to have them on my side.”

Mohawk finished the year 21-4 as district runner-up in Division III after winning two-straight district titles in Division IV.

The way the match began, though, it didn’t seem like such a thrilling ending was upcoming. Graboski slammed four kills and Jessi Holly put down six as the Rams took the opening game. Holly led Upper Sandusky with 23 on the day but passed on credit to Owens for opening up room for her.

“My girl, here, she pulls the block so then I have to go 1-on-1 and just hit my angles and put the ball down,” Holly said.

The big three of Graboski, Holly and Owens again set up their team with a 21-15 lead in Game 2 before Mohawk got a spark.

Libero Taylor McClain made a diving one-handed dig to keep a point alive, and MacKenzie Sowers found an opening on the floor to score for Mohawk. From that point, the rally was on.

“Those kind of plays are things that are going to lead to runs, too. Because it gets everybody motivated …,” Hoover said of McClain and Sowers’ play. “Somebody has to make a play. When they’re making a run, somebody has to make a play and end it and grab us the momentum back. Taylor’s done that all year. She does an awesome job back there. She saved so many balls and that was just another example right there.”

McClain finished with 22 digs, and Sowers and Julie Adelsperger each had 16.

Graboski finished with 17 kills for the Rams with Owens adding 14. Graboski, though, said having so many strong hitters is what makes her team tough.

“I think that’s the greatest part of having these two on the team,” she said, referencing Holly and Owens. “And Kalene (Johnson) and Ali (Roeder). If you slack off, you have four other teammates that can help pick you up throughout the game.”

Graboski pointed out after the match, with her gold medal hanging around her neck, that whatever happens the rest of the way, this Rams team has made history.

“This is as far as I’ve ever made it in the tournament and the school’s never made it in the tournament,” she said. “So it’s nice for our team to be remembered some way.”

The ride is not over yet though for Upper Sandusky. The Rams will travel Wednesday to Lake High School in Millbury for a regional final against Marion Pleasant.