FAIRBORN — New Bremen looked like it was on the cusp of completing another come-from-behind victory, but a rally by Tiffin Calvert in the fifth set of the Division IV state championship match on Saturday at Wright State’s Nutter Center ended those hopes.
Calvert went on a 10-2 run in the fifth set to spark a 15-10 win that earned the squad the Div. IV state title. New Bremen, which won the D-IV title last year, finishes 24-5.
New Bremen won the first set 25-12 but Calvert won the next two 25-20 and 25-21 to take a 2-1 lead. The Cardinals won the fourth 25-22 and took an early lead in the fifth, but the Senecas (26-3) grabbed momentum with their big run and closed out the win.
“These girls are champions, no matter what that trophy says,” New Bremen coach Diana Kramer said. “It might say runners-up, but these girls are champions. They’re champions on the floor, they’re champions off the floor, they’re going to be champions later in life.
“That’s the most important thing. These girls learned a lot of lessons this year, and they’re going to take that with them the rest of their life.”
The Cardinals lost current Michigan star Paige Jones to graduation off last year’s team and went through some growing pains in regular season. Though they amassed 18 victories, they lost their final two regular season matches in Midwest Athletic Conference play and looked to be the underdogs heading into a loaded district that included state-ranked Fort Recovery and St. Henry.
New Bremen beat both squads to earn a district title and then defeated two more state-ranked teams in Jackson Center and Monroeville to advance to Saturday’s final.
“There are a lot of things to be happy about,” senior setter Abbi Thieman said. “It’s a sad moment right now because we didn’t end up winning, but it’s also a ‘Wow, weren’t supposed to be in this state tournament at all,’ moment. There’s positives to everything, and that’s one of the things we have to stay positive about.”
New Bremen won the fourth set to tie the match 2-2 and brought its momentum into the fifth. Taylor Paul had an ace to put the Cardinals up 4-2 in the fifth game. But after taking a 5-3 lead on a kill by senior middle hitter Rachel Kremer, Calvert took over.
The Senecas scored the next four points to take a 7-5 lead. After the squads traded points to a 9-7 score, Calvert pulled away by scoring another four consecutive points — the last two of which came on attack errors by New Bremen.
Calvert came up with big defensive stops throughout the runs and had several well-placed hits — including a spike from Ashlyn Jones that skipped several feet across the net and fell to New Bremen’s side of the court. Jones led Calvert with 28 digs and had nine kills.
“I can clearly remember when it was (7-6) and they spiked the ball and it rolled across the top of the net five feet and fell on our side,” Kramer said. “That’s luck. That girl obviously tried to hit it across the net.
“You need three things to win a state championship. You need talent, which we have. You need a belief, which we have. And you need luck. Did we have a couple of lucky plays today? Sure. They might have had a couple (more) in key moments.”
New Bremen dominated in the first set, including at the net. The Cardinals had 11 kills while Calvert managed five. They also had four aces, three of which by Kremer. They took an early 13-3 lead and cruised the rest of the way to a 13-point win.
“I just wanted the first set to get over,” Calvert coach Lori Rombach said. “… I just wanted the girls to relax. I see every day how good they are when they’re loose and aggressive. I just wanted them to settle down and play. I just tried to stay calm and give them that energy.”
The teams traded points early in the second set. The Cardinals took an 8-5 lead after a Calvert attack error, an ace from setter Madison Pape and a kill by Kremer. The Senecas twice pulled within one point, including at 14-13. New Bremen responded with a 3-0 run to go up by four points, but Calvert scored the next four to tie it.
Jones had a kill to give Calvert its first lead of the match at 18-17, and Kramer called a timeout. The teams traded points to a 20-19 score, then an ace by Sydney Johnson skirted across the net and fell to the floor to put the Senecas up by two.
An attack error by Paul and another ace by Johnson increased the lead to 23-19. After the teams traded points, Kate Rombach had a kill on a hard spike to the middle of the court to close out the set.
“I just feel like that was the moment in the game when we just started to relax and settle down,” Rombach said. “… They were repping all their hits to the back left, and our libero was starting in middle back. We ended up shifting her to back left. …That was the point when our passing got a little better, we got into a tempo and into our system.”
Calvert kept its momentum up early in the third game and took a 5-1 lead. After a timeout, New Bremen scored six straight to take a 7-5 lead. The Senecas later tied it at 10-10, and the teams traded runs to a 17-17 tie. A block by Lila Gehring and a kill by Emma White gave Calvert a 19-17 lead.
New Bremen pulled within 22-21 on a kill by Claire Pape, but a kill by White and block by White and Zoe Meyer increased the lead to three points. The Cardinals called a timeout but then sent a spike out-of-bounds for the final point.
New Bremen scored three straight points to take an 8-5 lead in the fourth game and later scored six straight to increase it to 17-8.
The Senecas battled back. They scored the next five points, but Paul had a kill to put New Bremen up 18-13. Calvert scored the next three, though, to pull within two points.
The Cardinals pulled away, though. Claire Pape had a kill to put New Bremen ahead 20-16, then a Calvert attack error increased the lead to 21-16. After a timeout, Josie Reinhart had a kill to increase the lead to six points.
Calvert made a late push and pulled within 24-22, but a kill by Ashton Heitkamp ended it.
“New Bremen, my Lord, that’s a great team,” Lori Rombach said. “They’ve dug themselves out of deficits. I just kept saying to the girls that, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ Keep looking and working in small increments of play. When you start to look at a big deficit, it’s overwhelming. We just broke it down into smaller segments and focused on keep executing.”
The Cardinals will lose four seniors to graduation: libero Blake Snider, Madison Pape, Thieman and Kremer.
“There’s battles these girls are going to have to fight the rest of their lives,” Kramer said. “Whether it’s personal or professional or health-related, these girls have learned lessons that if you don’t give up, you can accomplish your dreams. You keep fighting, because that’s what you do.”