FAIRBORN – Every team but one has to see its season come to an end sooner than it would like. All things considered, the state tournament isn’t a bad place to reach the end of the line.
Upper Sandusky’s dream season reached its end Friday as the Rams fell in the Division III state semifinals to Versailles 25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 25-19.
After the match, it was a pretty unanimous opinion from the Ram players, it wasn’t the way they wanted to end the year, but being one of the four final teams standing is a special accomplishment.
“I’m just glad we got here,” said Jenna Holly. “Losing (stinks), but it’s really awesome to be here.”
“It’s really cool to say you made the Final Four,” added Upper Sandusky’s lone senior Taylor Graboski. “Losing does (stink), but there’s only one team in the state that can say ‘I had a perfect season.’ Even though we didn’t have that perfect season. It’s really nice knowing that the last time I got to put this jersey on, was at state.”
Each game had a similar tone to it, in which Versailles would race out to an early lead, only to see the Rams battle back. But in three of the four games, Versailles had enough to hold off the Ram rallies.
“I have great girls with a ton of heart,” said Upper Sandusky coach Matthew McConnaughey. “I could not be more proud of them. We didn’t lay down out there, we competed the whole time. Every time we were in a 5-set match, we pulled it out in the fifth set. We have a ton of heart. Great kids, some day it’s not your day.
“As long as they’re still breathing, yes, I still think I have a chance,” he added pointing to Graboski and Holly in the postgame press conference.
The early stages of the first game featured very little separation between the two teams. The game was tied on eight occasions, but after a 13-13 deadlock, Versailles ran off five straight points to take control. The Rams fought back, squaring the game at 22, but Versailles put up the next three points to take the early match lead.
“That’s how a state semi game should be,” said Versailles coach Karla Frilling. “That’s how we wanted it. They’re a great team. I think they brought the best out of us too.”
All afternoon, Upper Sandusky had problems slowing down Versailles’ hitters. Lauren Bruns and Amanda Winner had 21 and 20 kills respectively, and the Tigers got several key contributions from various players along its front line.
“As a blocker it was really though because, if you would cheat one way to try to get the block, then the setter was smart enough where she’d do the complete opposite then they’d have one-on-one,” Graboski said of trying to defend Versailles. “With any good hitter, if you have 1-on-1 nine out of 10 times you’re going to get the kill.”
Frilling said it’s a trademark of her team to run a fast-paced offense, getting many players involved.
“We knew that we needed to keep the tempo of our offense at our pace, the pace we work best at,” she said. “We don’t set a real high ball on the outside. We know our outsides swing better when they’re going in fast and coming in hot. We have some behind-the-setter play sets that seem to beat the block. That’s the tempo that we work at, that’s the tempo we’re used to, that’s the tempo we play best at.”
“We really couldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the hitters behind (Rachel Kreme) setting,” Winner added. “They opened our opportunities to hit seems and get the blockers off guard.”
Versailles raced out to a 6-2 edge early in Game 2, but again Upper Sandusky fought back. Graboski put down six of her team-high 18 kills in the game as the Rams turned that early deficit into a 19-15 lead.
This time it was Versailles clawing back, fighting off two Upper Sandusky game-points before Molly Owens finally slammed a kill to win the game and even the match.
“Their offense was really quick and it was kind of hard to keep up with it. The second game we got pretty comfortable and we won, but they came back,” said Holly.
“I think we got comfortable to a point, but they were always keeping us on our toes,” Graboski added. “There was no time we could ever relax just for a few points because they’re such a good team. We can’t, especially at this level, you don’t have that chance to relax.”
Game 3 was in the same vain as the first. After being tied at 12, a Versailles run escalated the lead to 20-15. Upper Sandusky battle to get within one at 23-22, but kills from Bruns and Kremer ended the game.
“We just really couldn’t get a handle on what they were bringing to us,” Frilling said. “Part of it was offensively, we put a lot of pressure on our outsides and they were able to put up a good front against us on the block. So our offense probably wasn’t as strong that second game. But once we reestablished the hitters we needed to behind the setter, we could take the pressure off our outsides and really open our offense and we took it from there. We were able to make that adjustment in game 3 and game 4.”
Game 4 saw Versailles race out to an 18-11 lead. Jessi Holly led a Ram charge of five straight points. But Bruns and Winner took over down the stretch to close out the match.
“In all honesty I just think we faced a better team today,” McConnaughey said. “We just could not get our block where we needed it to and that made it hard for Jenna to play defense when the block is not there. They just move the ball to well. It’s end-to-end. It’s all the way to the right side or all the way to the left. They’re very scrappy. Not a lot of weaknesses we could exploit.”
Versailles faces Gilmour Academy today at 4 p.m. for the Division III state championship. The Rams close their season with a 25-3 mark, and a ton of memories from a special season.
“It was a total honor for us, especially because we had so much community behind us,” Graboski said. “Every game you would see different things on Twitter supporting us and our fans which is huge. It was kind of like a seventh man. You’d go down Main Street, and Upper’s a small town and you’d see all these banners hanging in store windows. It meant a lot for us.”