FAIRBORN — Coldwater won the league title, but Versailles got the championship it most coveted on Saturday as the Tigers beat their Midwest Athletic Conference rival for the Division III state championship.
“The first day of practice this is what we all talked about,” Versailles senior Danielle Winner said. “We said we wanted to go to state and we wanted to win. And today we’re sitting here with a gold medal around our neck. We did it.”
As both teams expected, Saturday’s state championship match at Wright State University’s Nutter Center went to the wire with the Tigers claiming a five-set victory, 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 15-9, for their second state title in program history and first since 2013.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “We both come from the MAC. We both essentially had the same schedule and preparation leading up to this point. So we knew it was just going to be a battle, and we had a good feeling that it was probably going to go five as well.”
While the competitiveness of the match was never in doubt, the victor was much more difficult to predict. During the regular season Coldwater beat Versailles in four sets on its way to a MAC championship that it shared with New Bremen, who swept St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturday for the Division IV state championship.
Even though the Tigers lost to the Cavaliers in the regular season, their confidence wasn’t diminished entering Saturday’s rematch
“We didn’t play our best game against them, but that was kind of like our goal at the end… we can face them again, and I think they might have had a little bit of extra confidence coming in knowing they beat us in four in (the regular) season, and I think we had the extra fire to drive us to win this game,” senior Ellen Peters said.
Coldwater’s edge on Versailles continued in the early portion of Saturday’s match with the Cavaliers building a 9-4 advantage in the opening set. Versailles was able to close the gap and tied the score at 18-18 then gained leads of 19-18 and 20-19. However, Coldwater went on a 6-2 run to win the opening set 25-22.
Versailles started hot in the second game and built an early 4-1 advantage before Coldwater went on a nice run to take a 6-5 lead. From there it was a back-and-forth battle, but ultimately Versailles scored the final four points of the set to win 25-20 and even the match at one game apiece.
Versailles was on fire again to start the third set and built a 5-0 advantage, but once more Coldwater battled back and tied the score at 6-6. But this time Versailles quickly regained the upper hand. From an 8-8 tie the Tigers went on a 4-0 run to take a 12-8 lead – a lead they never relinquished on their way to a 25-19 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
“Everybody was all over the court, and it was just determination and leadership,” Bruggeman said.
The momentum stayed with Versailles to start the fourth set as the Tigers jumped out to an 8-1 lead. But Coldwater, the No. 1 ranked team in the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association state poll, refused to go down without a fight. The Cavaliers scored 15 of the next 23 points to tie the score at 16-16.
Just like Versailles, Coldwater’s tough regular season schedule prepared the Cavaliers to rise to the occasion.
“You are taxed and just pressured every point in the MAC conference, and that makes us better,” Coldwater coach Nikki Etzler said. “And it makes them stronger mentally, it makes them play cohesively as a unit, and that’s only going to serve them well in life.”
Coldwater went up 18-16 before Versailles regained the advantage at 20-19 and 21-20. The Cavaliers scored the first five points of the set, though, to win 25-21 and force a winner-take-all fifth set.
Coldwater held an early lead in the decisive fifth set, but it was Versailles who closed it out. From a 9-9 tie, the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to win the set 15-9 and claim the Division III state championship.
“Once we hit nine, I think there were five, maybe even six of the seniors on the court, and they all looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go and finish it out,’” Bruggeman said.
Danielle Winner led Versailles with a match-high 25 kills while Elizabeth Ording added 21 for the Tigers. Lindsey Winner had five block assists for Versailles, Ellen Peters had four block assists, and Danielle Winner had four block assists and a solo block.
Ellen Peters led Versailles with 54 assists while Elena Knapke had 47 for Coldwater. McEldowney led Versailles with a match-high 38 digs while Stammen had 19.
For Versailles’ seven seniors — Payton Berger, Mallory Marshal, Kami McEldowney, Cassie Peters, Ellen Peters, Kate Stammen and Danielle Winner — the state championship win was the perfect ending to their high school volleyball careers though it seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.
“Looking back in seventh and eighth grade volleyball, we were terrible,” Ellen Peters said. “To be honest we were terrible. I don’t think in seventh and eighth grade we would have ever imagined us seven seniors sitting up here, being here and winning this medal right here. But I think once we got into high school we were like, we have athletes; we’re all athletes, and we’re ready to step up and do what some of our sisters did and some of the girls older than us did in 2013.”
Kyle Shaner is the sports editor of the Greenville Daily Advocate. Shaner can be reached at (937) 569-4316, or follow on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate.