FAIRBORN – Versailles beat Tuscarawas Valley on Friday to set up a state championship match against fellow Midwest Athletic Conference program Coldwater.
Versailles was victorious against Tuscarawas Valley, who hadn’t lost a single set entering Friday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state semifinal, in four games – 25-17, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21. With the win the Tigers became the third MAC volleyball team to qualify for this year’s state finals along with Coldwater in Division III and New Bremen in Division IV.
“We don’t have teams like that around our area,” Tuscarawas Valley coach Cortney Goodwin said of Versailles. “The only time that we play teams like that is scrimmages and things like that. It is hard. It is hard for us to simulate that kind of play when we don’t have that competition.”
For Versailles, playing state-level competition is a regular occurrence, a reality that prepared the Tigers for the state semifinal against previously undefeated Tuscarawas Valley.
“I think looking at their team on paper, we were kind of like, whoa, like this team is really good,” Versailles senior setter Ellen Peters said of Tuscarawas Valley. “But I think our competition in our conference has just prepared us for whatever we face.”
Versailles got off to a great start in Friday’s match. From a 2-2 tie early in the opening set, the Tigers scored seven of the next nine points to build a 9-4 advantage.
Versailles led by as many as seven points before Tuscarawas Valley started to claw back into contention. After taking a timeout with an 18-15 lead, Versailles regained control and won the opening set 25-17 – marking the first time since last year’s state finals against Miami East that Tuscarawas Valley had lost a game.
“They were much more aggressive at the net than we were,” Goodwin said. “Hands down. We typically are a lot more aggressive than that. They were swinging for a kill, and I just don’t feel we were doing that every time like we normally do.”
Despite facing an unfamiliar situation, Tuscarawas Valley showed a lot of resiliency. The Trojans began the second game on a 4-0 run and led 7-1 in the early stages of the set.
Facing a big deficit, Versailles kept its composure and slowly chipped away at Tuscarawas Valley’s lead – eventually tying the game at 18-18.
“We stayed headstrong, though, and just focused on little chunks at a time to get us back into the game,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said.
Versailles gained its first lead of the set at 20-19 and then scored five of the next eight points to win 25-22 and go up two games to none in the best-of-five match.
With its season on the line, Tuscarawas Valley again showed its resiliency in the third set as the Trojans began the game on a 10-4 run. Versailles was able to pull within a single point late in the set, 23-22, but Tuscarawas hung on for a 25-22 victory to force a fourth game.
“I know they’re resilient,” Goodwin said of her players. “They’re used to winning. They’re used to competing in practice as well in matches so it’s no surprise. I think we could have won three in a row. I wouldn’t have been surprised by that. We just were making too many mistakes.”
Tuscarawas Valley again got off to a great start in the fourth set, building an early 5-1 lead. But Versailles showed its mental toughness again as the Tigers fought back to tie the score at 7-7.
“I think our team’s mindset is to never think that a hill is too high to climb,” Ellen Peters said. “We just come in the middle and we look at each other and we’re like, so what, we’re down five? That’s five points we earn, and we’re back in it, and it’s tied. I think that’s the mindset we have going into it, and that helps us to never really think that a game’s over.”
Versailles gained its first lead of the fourth set a 12-11 and held the advantage until Tuscarawas Valley knotted the score at 19-19. Moments later from a 20-20 tie, the Tigers went on a 5-1 run to win the fourth set 25-21 and earn a spot in the state final against Coldwater, who beat Independence 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 in Friday’s other Division III state semifinal.
“The MAC is just such a strong conference,” Bruggeman said. “The teams that we play – three of them including us are in the state finals – so I think that attests to who we played this season and who our losses were to; two of them were to New Bremen. It just prepares us so well for a situation like this.”
Elizabeth Ording led Versailles with 16 kills in Friday’s match against Tuscarawas Valley, Danielle Winner had 15, and Mallory Marshal added 11.
“Mallory gives you that look when you come in the middle – set me this ball and I’m putting it away; I promise you,” Ellen Peters said. “She might not be the most dramatic out there, might not see her giving the biggest smile, but in her mind she knows I’m putting this ball away when it gets set to me.”
Lindsey Winner led the Tigers with six blocks. Ording, Marshal and Danielle Winner each had three.
Ellen Peters had 39 assists for Versailles. Cassie Peters and Danielle Winner both had two aces. Kami McEldowney had a match-high 27 digs.
Tuscarawas Valley’s Alexis Gilland did have a match-high 24 kills on 85 attempts, but McEldowney’s presence helped keep Gilland’s attacking percentage down, which can be tough on a team that is so used to sustained success, Bruggeman said.
“That’s such a mental thing so her being able to do that is awesome,” the Versailles coach said.
Versailles now advances to play Coldwater for the Division III state championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Wright State University’s Nutter Center. Immediately preceding the all-MAC Division III state final will be New Bremen against St. Thomas Aquinas at 1 p.m. for the Division IV state championship.
“It’s so fun just to have another MAC competition,” Bruggeman said. “I think we’re both just genuinely excited. We know it’s going to be good competition. Great friends with Nikki Etzler and Mike Etzler; they were around when I was playing club. So fun to coach against them, going to be fun to play against them. I think we’re all excited.”
Coldwater, which is ranked first in the Division III state rankings by the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association, shared the MAC championship with New Bremen this season. The Cavaliers beat the Tigers 3-1 in the final week of the regular season, but Versailles is confident about its chances this time around.
“We’ve started to peak at the right time,” Danielle Winner said, “and we’re ready for anything that comes to us.”
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.