MARIA STEIN – For the first time in 37 matches, Anna tasted defeat Tuesday. And doing the honors was host Marion Local, who downed the Rockets 3-2 in five games (25-18, 21-25, 25-17, 22-25 and 16-14) in a match up of No. 1 ranked teams.
Anna, the defending Division III state champion, had not lost since falling to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph in the 2005 Division III state semifinals. The Rockets (7-1) are No. 1 in the D-III state poll.
Marion Local (9-0) is No. 1 in the D-IV state poll.
“It was just two great teams playing tonight,” Anna coach Karen Zumberger said. “This is hard after winning 37 straight and coming so close tonight.”
The game was filled with intriguing storylines and two of Ohio’s best players in Anna’s Kelli Barhorst and Marion’s Abby Niekamp.
The Ohio State-bound Barhorst was dominating. Unofficially she tallied 22 kills and 12 blocks. On the other side of the net Niekamp attempted to match her. The Florida State-recruit didn’t have quite the numbers, but she got the most important one – a win.
Marion wasted little time making a statement. The Flyers took the lead in the first game 7-5 and never looked back. The key for Marion, as it was throughout the night, was the tandem of Megan Barhorst (Cleveland State) and Niekamp. The duo was able to control the net just enough, providing the Flyers with some separation. Eventually Marion took the first game 25-19. It was a huge mental lift for the home team.
Anna served first in Game 2 and took a very early 4-2 advantage. From there the Rockets were able to control the game using the outside hitting of Laura Gehert.
With Anna up 11-10, Gerhert provided another spark with her service game. The junior ripped off nine service points, including three aces. Before the barrage was over Anna had taken control 19-11. The Rockets were able to hold off a late Flyer surge, tying the match at 1-1.
Marion took the advantage back in Game 3 with a 25-17 victory. The Flyers never trailed in the game and won it in relatively easy fashion. Up 2-1, Marion had control of the match with Anna on the brink. But, showing why they are defending champions, the Rockets did not go away.
For the fourth straight game the team serving first won. The Rockets took a 2-1 lead, fell behind 6-5 and then roared backed, taking a 9-8 advantage they never surrendered en route to a 25-22 win.
Needing only 15 points to win Game 5 and the match, Anna exploded for an 11-4 lead in the decisive frame. But, then two things happened. First, Barhorst fell to the floor with an ankle injury, but did return. Second, Niekamp decided she had seen enough. The senior took over and willed her team to victory.
Niekamp ripped off seven service points, tying the game at 13-13. With the crowd roaring and all the momentum, the Flyers continued the run and won the game 16-14 and the match 3-2.
Last year Anna routed Marion 3-0.
“We didn’t even talk about last year’s game,” Marion Local coach Amy Steininger said. “We felt like we could play with them this year.”