FAIRBORN — Nerves hurt New Bremen early in a Division IV state semifinal on Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center. But just like in last Saturday’s regional final, early nerves didn’t doom New Bremen.
After trailing by as many as 13 points in the first set, the Cardinals won the last three sets to beat Buckeye Central and advance to Saturday’s state championship game against St. Thomas Aquinas.
After Buckeye Central took a 17-4 lead in the first game, New Bremen rallied furiously but lost 25-22. The last part of the first set was a sign of things to come, though. The Cardinals won the next three 25-16, 25-23 and 25-18.
New Bremen lost the first set in a regional final against Fort Loramie on Saturday and rallied to win the last three sets.
“Regional finals all over again,” New Bremen coach Diana Kramer said. “That’s what happens in life, though. Sometimes you’re faced with a big challenge — you’re in a job interview and you get nervous. But you’ve got to find a way to make it through that interview, because you know you deserve that job.
“That’s what happened today. We found a way to work through that interview because we deserve that job on Saturday. We deserve to be state champions.”
It was a dominating performance again by senior outside hitter Paige Jones that helped the Cardinals win. Jones had 47 kills, which was a state tournament record. Jones, who is verbally committed to Michigan, also had 20 digs.
“It was just like on Saturday,” Jones said. “That first set, it was just hard to get going. Everybody was super nervous. The second set was definitely when I started to feel it.”
After the players celebrated on the court following the decisive point, they celebrated in front of a large student section that was on the lower level at the Nutter Center. There were thousands of adult New Bremen fans above them in the upper level.
“It was definitely a cool experience seeing the community come and support us this much,” Jones said. “So Saturday is our time to give back to them. They’ve been here for us this entire year and last year. We couldn’t do it without them.
“The student section did amazing. They’re the reason that we’re playing this well. They keep our energy high. You can even hear them saying like, ‘It’s okay girls, you’ve got this.’ They’re our seventh man.”
After New Bremen pulled to within 8-3 in the first set, the Bucks scored the next nine points to take command. They built their big lead in part thanks to errors by New Bremen. The Cardinals had five attack errors as well as two service errors and one block error.
After a timeout, New Bremen (27-1) returned to normal form.
Paige Jones had two kills to get New Bremen started and then had nine more before the end of the set. New Bremen closed the gap to 24-22, but a kill by Buckeye Central’s Emily Stump preserved the win.
After an attack error pulled Buckeye Central within 7-6 in the second set, the Cardinals went on a 7-1 run that featured three kills by Jones and one kill each by Julia Goettemoeller, Taylor Paul and Macy Puthoff. Buckeye Central didn’t pull closer than six points after that.
The third set was a constant back-and-forth battle between the squads. New Bremen took a 7-4 lead, but Buckeye Central scored six of the next nine to tie it. After the Bucks took a 20-18 lead, the Cardinals scored seven of their last 10 points to win. The final point came on a hard serve by Jones off a pass from Abbi Thieman.
New Bremen took a 12-7 lead in the fourth set and led by at least two points the rest of the set.
“In that second set, we started serving better,” Kramer said. “In that third set when we were down, our serving stepped up. Macy (Puthoff) served two aces in that set. To end the fourth set, Taylor Paul served some aces.
“That was the difference maker. Our serving at the end of the game, when it really, really mattered in the clutch, came through.”
No New Bremen team has won a state title, and Kramer praised the team for its work to reach a state final.
“It means more than anybody even knows,” Kramer, a second-year coach, said. “This town deserves it; these girls deserve it. Everything that’s happening right now, they’ve worked hard for. They’ve worked hard for this moment even before I was a part of this program. With that said, I need to give thank yous out to so many other people. But we deserve it, that’s the bottom line.”
St. Thomas Aquinas beat Fairfield Christian 3-0 in Thursday’s second Div. IV semifinal.
Saturday’s state championship match is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.