Versailles was on the brink of stealing game one in a Division III
state semifinal Friday at Wright State’s Nutter Center. However, a
seasoned Albany Alexander group playing in the Final Four for the third
straight season fought back to take the opening set, which ultimately
led to a 26-24, 25-19, 27-25 straight set semifinal win.
Now Alexander wants to get that elusive title.
FAIRBORN – Versailles was on the brink of stealing game one in a Division III state semifinal Friday at Wright State’s Nutter Center. However, a seasoned Albany Alexander group playing in the Final Four for the third straight season fought back to take the opening set, which ultimately led to a 26-24, 25-19, 27-25 straight set semifinal win.
Now Alexander wants to get that elusive title. It gets another shot Saturday at 5 p.m. against Gates Mills Gimour Academy. Both teams are 27-1.
In the first game Friday six Alexander errors – committed by six different Lady Spartans – had Versailles out to an early 7-2 advantage forcing Alexander coach Bradd Jeffers to use an early timeout. Versailles stayed in control of the set leading by two or more all the way until the turning point came on an overturned call. The play came with Versailles leading 20-18. Alexander middle-hitter Megan McCoy hit a ball that appeared to be long turning the scoreboard to 21-17 in favor of the Lady Tigers.
Seconds later, the line judge from behind the attack signaled a tip, changing the call to a McCoy kill to make the score 20-18. On the next volley, Alexander’s Haley Born’s tough serve resulted in an overpass and another McCoy kill to cut the lead to one and force a Versailles timeout.
When action resumed, Alexander continued to roll and the spark continued to come from Born’s serving. The Lady Spartans scored the next four points to cap off the 7-0 run to take a 23-20 advantage. After an attack error by Alexander, Taylor Ording of Versailles placed three straight service aces to take a 24-23 lead.
Finally, the Spartans were able to handle Ording’s serve and score on an attack error from the Tigers. With Whitney Smith back to serve, Alexander scored on a McCoy kill and a Julie Els block to secure the 26-24 first set victory.
“I give Alexander credit because they never stopped being aggressive,” said Versailles coach Jeremy Riley. “Even after their early errors which helped us build a lead, they just kept serving tough and causing us problems in running our offense. We felt like we had a size advantage at the net, but their serving and their relentless attack made it tough for us to respond with any sort of attack.”
The winning coach agreed that the attention to aggressiveness was a key in the match.
“I thought we did a great job of staying aggressive,” said Jeffers. “Our kids have had a habit of getting off to slow starts throughout the tournament, and tonight was no different. I think the kids want this so bad that we were a little anxious, so we decided to call the early timeout and regroup.”
Alexander rode this momentum to a 13-8 lead early in game two, but that is when Megan Campbell started to make her imprint on the match. The 6-1 junior’s play at the net accompanied by the tough serving of Jill Hemmelgarn helped the Tigers score six of the game’s next seven points to tie the game at 14-14.
On the next volley, Alexander setter Sarah Radekin took advantage of her front row position and played the second ball over finding a hole in the Tiger defense. Radekin then served three straight points with the final two ending with her assisting a Betsy Irwin and a Born kill to take an 18-14 lead and forcing Versailles to take a timeout.
The Tigers did get within two at 20-18; however, a pair of McCoy kills along with a service ace from Born squashed all comeback hopes for Versailles in game two. As a result, the Spartans took a commanding two games to none advantage.
After back-to-back tough losses, Versailles refused to quit. The Lady Tigers fought their way through a third set that saw 10 ties – including at 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, and 25. Alexander scored the final two points on consecutive kills from Els to Radekin and Radekin to McCoy.
“The third set is a great example of why I am so proud of this team,” said Riley. “The never say die. That has nothing to do with me, because you can’t coach that. These kids never stopped playing hard. Today wasn’t our day, but the accomplishments of this team make me really proud of them.”
Versailles ends the season at 21-8. The Tigers were led by Campbell with 13 kills and four blocks. Senior libero Shelby Shimp recorded 15 digs in her final match, while Shelby Bey and Hemmelgarn dished out 12 and 10 assists, respectively.
In the win, Alexander had a balanced attack. Radekin had 38 assists, with 24 of those resulting in kills from Alexander’s two middle-hitters in McCoy and Irwin. Smith had 12 kills and 12 digs. Alexander’s defense was led by senior libero Lauren Raines who dug up 21 attacks.
The Spartans return to center stage Saturday afternoon to play for the state title. Their opponent will be a familiar one in Gilmour Academy – the Lady Lancers beat the defending state champions in Lima Central Catholic 25-19, 25-17, 25-21 in the early D-III match to advance. Gilmour and Alexander met in last year’s semifinal with Alexander winning a five-set thriller.
“No matter how many times you have been here, it is still extremely exciting and difficult to get settled into the match,” said Smith who was named first-team all-Ohio earlier this week. “We just have to concentrate and try to get off to a better start.”
Even with the early troubles, the Alexander coach says there’s nothing that he needs to say.
“Not a word,” said Jeffers when asked what kind of motto he would look to for motivation going into the finals. “They don’t need me. These kids know what they want, and they have wanted it for a long time. They have outworked everyone to get here, and win or lose tomorrow (Saturday); I know they will leave it all out there.”