VERSAILLES – The last five years either Versailles or Miami East has represented Southwest Ohio in the final four of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state volleyball tournament.
The two powerhouses will meet in the regional semifinals on Thursday with one program set to move one step closer to another state tournament appearance and the other ending its season.
“I think it’s always an intense match when we run into Miami East,” Versailles volleyball coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “I think it’s just going to be a dogfight and who really wants it the most and who is going to be able to lay it out all on the floor just to get that win. It will be a fun, intense game.”
Versailles, which advanced to the state final four in 2013 and 2014, is in the sweet 16 for a fourth consecutive season. Even with new players entering the lineup each year – and a new head coach this season – the Tigers have maintained the standard of excellence they’ve established.
“We have a really strong program and no matter what things will always be OK,” junior captain Danielle Winner said.
This season Versailles has amassed a 20-5 record and shared the Midwest Athletic Conference championship with Marion Local. The Tigers went on to win sectional and district tournament championships with little trouble, sweeping Bethel, West Liberty-Salem and Badin in their first three postseason matches.
“The competition is definitely going to keep increasing so we just have to keep increasing ourselves and have the right mindsets and just go out and do what we know how to do,” senior captain Kami Ording said.
Even though Versailles hasn’t really been tested thus far in the tournament, the Tigers feel well prepared for Miami East and any other strong teams they might face because of the stiff competition they played in the regular season.
The MAC has three teams playing in the regional tournaments. Along with Versailles, Coldwater in Division III and New Bremen in Division IV also are still alive in tournament action.
The MAC had five other teams – Fort Recovery, Marion Local, Minster, Parkway and St. Henry – reach the district tournaments before being eliminated by other MAC teams. In all, the 10 MAC volleyball programs have only lost one match this postseason to a non-MAC team – a Delphos St. John’s loss to Ottoville in a sectional championship match.
“Our competition in the MAC is just huge,” Bruggeman said. “To be able to have some of those wins under our belt I think helps with the girls’ confidence and just to be able to reflect back on that and to know that if we work together we can achieve a win against a strong team. But I still think it just comes down to us really focusing on our side and being able to push forward and like I said just get better every day at practice.”
Practice also has provided Versailles opportunities to get better that not many teams have. The Tigers’ depth allows them to face stiff competition even in practice.
“I think our other team that we play in practice, like six on six, will help us get better,” junior captain Kami McEldowney said. “Most teams don’t have that so that’s a huge thing for us.”
In addition to helping in practice, Versailles’ depth also is beneficial during matches. The Tigers have five girls with 100 or more kills this season and a sixth with 99. Miami East mainly relies on two hitters – Kyndall Hellyer and Jonni Parker, who is verbally committed to play college volleyball at Ohio State.
“I think now it’s just a matter of really fine-tuning everything and keeping the practices intense so they realize the opportunity that we have and to really appreciate it and use it as a time to get better,” Bruggeman said of the preparations for the regional tournament.
Miami East and Versailles are set to play in a regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena in Kettering. That match will follow the 6 p.m. regional semifinal between Anna and Utica.
The winners of the Anna-Utica and Versailles-Miami East matches will play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trent Arena in the regional final. The winner of the regional championship will advance to next week’s state final four at Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton.
“I think it will come down to who wants it more,” Ording said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.