FAIRBORN — New Bremen senior Macy Puthoff and junior Diana Heitkamp got in a fight during a practice recently, and coach Diana Kramer stopped the scuffle and made the two players “hug it out.”
“It’s just like your kids at home,” Kramer said. “They were pained by having to do that. But they did it.”
The was no pain in the hugging those two or anyone of New Bremen’s players did on Saturday — and there were plenty of hugs to go around after the squad won a state championship by beating neighboring rival Fort Loramie.
The Cardinals won 28-26, 25-20, 24-26, 25-20 in the Division IV state final at Wright State University’s Nutter Center to capture their second title in the last three years. It’s the third consecutive appearance in a state championship match for New Bremen, which lost 3-2 to Tiffin Calvert in the D-IV final last year.
All but one of the team’s players were on varsity two years ago during the title run, which was the first in school history. But only three players stepped on the court during that 2017 victory.
Kramer credited the players for keeping the program at a state championship level when they got their chance to take the court.
“They have been hungry and humble for their entire career,” Kramer said. “When I took over (as coach) four years ago, I could not have dreamt of something like this happening.”
New Bremen (28-1) was ranked No. 2 in Div. IV in the final state coaches poll and beat the other four top-ranked teams in its last four tournament games. Seven of the team’s eight tournament opponents were ranked in the top 10 of the final poll.
“It has not been easy,” Kramer said. “… It is mentally, physically, emotionally exhausting …but in the end, you don’t want to leave any regrets. These girls laid it all out there.”
Puthoff credited the team’s family-like closeness for being the difference as to why the squad bested the other four top teams — even if that closeness leads to a fight every now and then.
“Everyone always says, ‘Oh, you guys have good hitters and you’re really athletic.’ That’s a big part of it, but what makes us great is that we’re friends on and off the court,” Puthoff said. “We love each other. We hang out. Our culture is so positive and so encouraging. I love every single one of those girls. Winning is a byproduct of everything else we do.”
It’s the Redskins’ second loss this season to New Bremen. Fort Loramie, which is eight miles from New Bremen, lost a nonconference matchup 3-1 on the road on Sept. 22. The squad was knocked out of the tournament by New Bremen last year in a 3-0 loss in a regional semifinal.
“We kind of knew their tendencies and watched them on film, but we were just a little short,” Fort Loramie senior middle hitter Marissa Meiring said.
It was the second state championship appearance for Fort Loramie, which won the D-IV state title in its only other appearance in 2014. The Redskins finish 27-3 overall.
“It was a battle,” Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers said. “We’ve talked all year about how volleyball is an imperfect game, and that the team that plays imperfect the best wins. We just fell a little bit short in the imperfect volleyball category today.”
The Redskins had an early lead in the first game but couldn’t keep up momentum and lost. The Cardinals led throughout the second set, but Fort Loramie rallied in the third to win and force a fourth game.
Fort Loramie took a lead in the fourth but couldn’t keep it up, as New Bremen went on a 7-3 run to take a 20-17 lead and pulled away from there.
“It was a great match, a lot like I expected,” Kramer said. “There were a lot of lead changes and big-time plays. It just came down to the team that made fewer mistakes at the end, and we turned our defense into offense at the end and capitalized.”
An attack error by New Bremen gave the Redskins a 14-9 lead in the first set, but the Cardinals rallied late. After the Cardinals pulled within 23-20, Taylor Paul and Puthoff had consecutive kills, then an attack error by Fort Loramie tied it up.
Puthoff had a kill to give New Bremen a 24-23 lead. The squads played to a 26-26 tie, then Ashton Heitkamp and Josie Reinhart came up with kills on consecutive hard spikes to end it.
“You can never be satisfied,” Puthoff said. “We were still hungry and still wanted more. But once you get that momentum, that’s what pushes you through. That lead helped us get that momentum.”
New Bremen built a 15-9 lead in the second game and held on from there. The teams played even in the third, but New Bremen scored three straight points to take a 21-18 lead. Fort Loramie battled back to tie it, then completed the comeback win with a kill by Alyssa Wrasman and a New Bremen attack error.
“We talked about having no regrets,” Rodgers said. “Leave it all on the floor, every bit of it. They did.”
Fort Loramie led 10-8 early in the fourth game but the Cardinals later scored three straight points to take a 17-14 lead. The teams played to a 23-20 score, then Ashton Heitkamp had a kill and Fort Loramie committed an error to end it.
“You practice out of system and you play out of system, but those are the breaks of the game,” Rodgers said.
Puthoff led New Bremen with 13 kills while Paul and Reinhart each had 10 and Ashton Heitkamp had eight. Claire Pape led the squad with 43 assists. Diana Heitkamp had a team-high 22 digs while Ashton Heitkamp had 12. Kaylee Freund led the squad with six block assists.
The squad will lose three senior to graduation: Paul, Puthoff and Ashton Heitkamp.
“They won 103 games in their career, which is absolutely unbelievable,” Kramer said. “They have put in the time and effort. People don’t realize how much time and effort they put in and how much time and effort their families put in to get better in the offseason. They’ve been with me for three years, and they’re like my kids.”
The Cardinals should be a threat to return to Fairborn next year. They have 12 varsity players returning and may mix in some players from a JV team that lost one game and an eighth grade team that was undefeated.
“There are people in our locker room ready to step up,” Kramer said. “… We had 150 girls attending little girls camp. We have eight team managers on this team, and they want to be like these girls. We just had over 130 little girls come to our team practice on Tuesday. (Our players) passed with them, set with them, took pictures with them, gave autographs.
“They made a difference, and that is hopefully why New Bremen volleyball will continue to reach excellence year in and year out. That’s the expectation.”
McKenzie Hoelscher led Fort Loramie with 18 kills while Ava Sholtis had 14, Wrasman had nine and Meiring had eight. Maya Maurer led the squad with 47 assists. Sholtis led the team with 15 digs while Meiring and Macy Imwalle each had 12. Hoelscher had a team-high six block assists.
Fort Loramie will lose four starters to graduation in Meiring, Wrasman, Imwalle and Taylor Ratermann.
“Those four are the reason we’re here, the reason we went 12-0 in the (Shelby County Athletic League) and won the second regional championship (in program history),” Rodgers said. “Being a good volleyball team goes way, way beyond the sport itself. It goes to leadership, it goes to how they interact every day with their teammates.
“That’s what these (seniors) do well. I told them I’d have a lot of tears after this, because I don’t get to coach them anymore. That’s the hardest part.”
The squad will try to make another trip to Fairborn next year with the majority of its roster slated to return, including Hoelscher and Sholtis. Fort Loramie won 13 consecutive matches before Friday’s semifinal and had lost only one set in that time.
“I’m not worried about next year yet; I’m looking forward to watching these guys in basketball season and in other sports,” Rodgers said. “… They’re not one-sport athletes, they do everything. That’s a tribute to Fort Loramie, how the school is set up, the expectations that are there. That’s something we can hang our hat on.”