KETTERING – The Versailles volleyball team got points in “chunks” on Thursday night as it rolled to a three-set sweep of Miami East in the Division III regional semifinals at Trent Arena in Kettering.
“Being in the Elite 8 sounds really nice. I love it,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said after her team defeated the Vikings 25-11, 25-21, 25-16 in the second of two semifinal matches on the evening.
Marion Pleasant got past the Anna Rockets in four sets in the first semifinal contest of the night setting up a regional championship match with Versailles at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Trent Arena.
“Marion Pleasant is a really energetic team,” Bruggeman said. “But I am going to be that broken record because we have got to focus on our side. We can’t miss that many serves and we can’t let it go back and forth like tonight especially at the start of games. We have to gap out and gap out as soon as we can.”
The Tigers were able to “gap out” against the Vikings, particularly in the first and third sets. The first set was back and forth in the early going with Miami East holding a slim 7-6 lead. Versailles went on a mini run to take it to 12-9 in their favor on a kill by Liz Ording to get the serve back. That’s when junior Caitlin McEldowney ran off 10 straight service points to open the lead to 22-9 and the Tigers had gained control in a major way finishing out the set victory 25-11.
“Caitlin’s serving in the first set was so huge,” Bruggeman said. “She just has such control of the ball when she’s back there. She can literally put it anywhere on the court. That is one of our greatest advantages, and even more so is she is our fourth or fifth server so it comes at typically really good times in the game to where we can gap out and get closer to 25.”
After a closer second set that Versailles won 25-21, the same thing happened in the third set with a back-and-forth match early on and then a long run of service points for the Tigers that put it seemingly out of reach for Miami East. This time, however, the service leader was Alexa Didier. The senior took the ball with her team holding a two-point advantage at 11-9 and rolled off eight straight points to stretch the Tigers lead to 19-9. Miami East closed that gap to 24-16 before Liz Ording ended it with one of her patented left-handed slams.
“I honestly want to say I think it went back to the server just before Alexa on that third set run,” Bruggeman said referring to McEldowney who served from an 8-8 tie to an 11-9 Versailles lead before Didier got her turn. “(McEldowney) gapped out about three or four and then Lex went back there with her nine so that really helped us and it shifted the game because it was so back and forth to that point.
“Then we also had Liz (Ording) and Lindsey (Winner) in the front row which is so huge,” she continued. “They put up such a big block that helps out our defense tremendously. And with them in the front row, the offense goes just so smoothly. You can put it just about anywhere and they are going to make sure they get a kill. Liz I’m pretty sure hit close to 700 (kills) tonight which is just an unbelievable statistic, and that just shows her leadership and what she wants out of this tournament run. We said we want to establish her quickly and I thought we did that tonight.”
In each of the last two season, Versailles and Miami East have faced off in the regional tournament with the winner going on to win a state championship. Last year, the two teams met in the regional finals and it was Versailles coming out on top en route to winning the state championship. In 2016, it was the opposite as Miami East knocked the Tigers out in the regional semifinals on their way to the state title.
“They really upped their offense in set two and it was a much tighter game,” Bruggeman said of the Vikings. “Dan (Peterson) is such a good coach. We knew they were going to be fundamentally sound so I for sure expected a battle tonight and you saw that.
“I thought we lacked scoring in chunks in the second set,” she continued. “It was evident honestly all night besides when Alexa would go back to server or Caitlin, so it was back and forth and like I said against a fundamentally sound team you are going to have that unless you execute and make those serving runs. We had so many out of bounds serves in set two also. We have to clean that up and that’s what I told the girls we have to do in practice tomorrow.”
The Tigers have really come together well on this tournament run, Bruggeman explained.
“The girls are just so excited,” Bruggeman said. “To see their team chemistry build throughout the season has been the most fun part. The way they act before the game, everyone is included. There’s not three different groups that are sitting and chatting before the game, it’s every single one of them in a whole circle, hand holding and pumping each other up. They are all moving in one direction and it shows when we step on the court.
“I think it was going through the learning process of it’s not going to be handed to you,” she continued. “A lot of those girls haven’t been at the varsity level. Two of them – Emma and Abby – were playing freshmen ball last year. That is such a huge jump, so to get them more comfortable and for them to see they have the potential to be where we are at right now is so huge and for the returning upperclassmen – Lindsey, Liz, Kelsey and even Caitlin – for them to realize what leadership role they had to take on it took them the majority of the season to realize what exactly went into that. Now that they have seen what that does and how it has changed the team everybody is on board which is just so fun.”
The Daily Advocate sports editor Skip Weaver can be reached at (937) 569-4316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at @skipweaver65.