TROY — A fan from Emmanuel Christian Academy walked up to Jackson Center coach Kim Metz near the team’s locker room after a Division IV sectional final on Wednesday at Troy and asked a question about a player’s grade.
When Metz informed him the player was a junior, he said, “Whoa, you’ve got to like having her for another year.”
Metz has heard similar comments about middle hitter Raquel Kessler a lot this season, and it was easy for Emmanuel fans to see why.
Kessler, who was named the Shelby County Athletic League player of the year, had 26 kills and 19 digs to lead the Tigers to a 25-9, 25-18, 23-25 and 25-22 win. The win earned Jackson Center a spot in a district final on Saturday against Cincinnati Christian.
Kessler is one of few returning players from Jackson Center’s state title team last season. The Tigers (17-8), which have won the D-IV title the last two seasons, are made up mostly of varsity newcomers.
And though the newcomers gained a season’s worth of experience against strong SCAL and nonconference opponents, the tournament is a different animal. Some of Jackson Center’s inexperience showed up in the last two sets against Emmanuel.
“Though some of the upperclassmen had experience with our tournament runs, this is a new experience for a lot of the girls,” Metz said. “So that does make a little bit of a difference, but you try to do the little things in practice that’s going to put pressure on, and you add those little pressure points during that time to get them mentally prepared.
“This was quite a challenge and a test for some of these kids. Some of them answered well, some of them need maybe a little bit more coaxing. But it was a good match for a lot of these girls to pull through.”
After the Tigers had taken a 15-13 lead in the third set, Emmanuel scored 10 of the next 14 points to take control. Jackson Center pulled ahead to a big lead in the fourth set, but the Lions scored seven of the last nine points to narrow the final score.
“We had quite a few mental mistakes that cost us points,” Metz said. “So many of those service errors, setting errors. Just some of those stupid mental errors that just basically hands things over on a platter. It’s the space in-between your ears that you’ve got to take care of just as much.”
Though Metz was hoping for a more consistent performance on Wednesday, she’s hopeful it will serve as a learning experience on Saturday as the Tigers go for the program’s ninth consecutive district title.
“That’s one of the main things, and we talked about it in the locker room,” Metz said. “We’re still playing, and that’s the bonus and that’s where we move forward.”
Caroline Frieders led Jackson Center with 23 assists and had 14 kills, 13 digs and five aces. Katie Sosby had 19 digs, while Connor Pipke had 16 digs. Madilynn Platfoot had 16 assists and had 13 digs.
Laurissa Polling makes life easy for Russia
Kessler isn’t the only strong middle hitter in the SCAL. Russia’s Laurissa Poling, a first team all-SCAL selection, has been a key for the team’s success this year. She proved difficult for Cedarville to stop in the Raiders’ 25-20, 25-16 and 25-16 win in Wednesday’s first Div. IV final at Troy.
Polling had 18 kills, seven digs and two aces for the Raiders (18-7).
“She makes things a whole lot easier,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said of Polling. “If anything gets by her, we have Whitney (Pleiman) back there to pick it up. A real 1-2 combo there.”
Pleiman, the libero, was also a first-team selection. She had 23 digs and three aces in the win, while Jenna Cordonnier had 31 assists and eight digs.
Cedarville took a 13-10 lead in the first set, but Russia scored four consecutive points to take the lead and finished off the set with a 10-5 run.
“We started out really slow, but we just had to be aggressive,” Polling said. “It’s the tournament, we know it’s one-and-done and if we lose, we’re out. We didn’t want that to happen, we want to go far in the tournament.”
Russia has lost in district final matches the last two seasons and will try to break the losing streak against Riverside on Saturday. Russia beat Riverside in three sets in a second-round sectional game last year.
“It would mean a lot (if we won), and we want to go farther than that, even,” Polling said.
Watkins said he feels Russia is prepared for a district final match after tough SCAL and nonconference competition.
“Between that and the MAC (opponents) that we have, it’s good,” Watkins said. “We play a tough, tough schedule. Probably one of the toughest in the state, honestly.”
Fort Loramie will be the third SCAL team in action on Saturday in Troy. The Redskins will face Miami Valley Christian Academy.
The Division IV district finals will have game times of 3, 5 and 7 p.m. on Saturday. As of press deadline on Thursday, times had not been assigned to specific games by the OHSAA. Game times will be posted on Friday at sidneydailynews.com as soon as they are announced.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.