CLAYTON — A rematch between the state’s two top-ranked Division IV teams has been anticipated for a month. Fort Loramie won the second of two regional semifinals on Thursday at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome to make a rematch reality.
Fort Loramie beat Shelby County Athletic League rival Jackson Center 25-12, 25-15, 25-15 in a Div. IV regional semifinal to advance to a final for the third straight season.
The Redskins (25-2) will face New Bremen (22-4) in a regional final on Saturday at Northmont. Fort Loramie beat the Cardinals 3-1 on Sept. 23 in New Bremen and finished as the top-ranked team in D-IV in the final coaches association state poll. The Cardinals finished No. 2.
“The biggest thing we got from that first match was confidence, knowing that we can play at that level,” Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers said. “It takes us a long time in a season to get our girls to volleyball pace and volleyball speed.
“We got to that point. When we played them, we were starting to get our speed. From there, (our girls) saw the light, that they could keep doing this and keep pushing.”
New Bremen won its third state title since 2017 last year. Since its 2017 campaign, the Cardinals have advanced to a state final five times; its lone loss before a state match in that span was in 2021 to eventual state champion and neighboring rival New Knoxville in a district final.
Fort Loramie last advanced to state in 2019, when New Bremen played in the Northwest D-IV regional. The teams met in the state final match, which the Cardinals won 3-1.
The Redskins lost 3-0 to St. Henry two years ago and 3-0 to New Bremen last year in regional finals at Northmont.
“We just have to be ourselves, have a lot of confidence,” Fort Loramie junior setter Jenna Barhorst said. “We want to do different than what we did last year.”
Barhorst said Fort Loramie did well with serve receive on Thursday and will have to do so again against the Cardinals.
“When they’re doing their job back there, I can set any of my hitters, and they can put the ball away,” Barhorst said.
The teams traded points early in the first set until two consecutive Jackson Center errors gave Fort Loramie a 12-8 lead and forced Jackson Center coach Kim Metz to call a timeout.
The Redskins scored the first six points after the timeout (with the help of a few more miscues by the Tigers) to take a 10-point lead and pulled away further to a 13-point victory to take a 1-0 lead.
Fort Loramie scored the first five points in the second game and built an 11-4 lead, which forced a Jackson Center timeout. The squad quickly pushed its lead to double digits; Jackson Center scored three straight points to close the final margin to 10.
“We were playing at our speed, our tempo,” Rodgers said. “… We’ve been practicing hard and working on our speed in practice, and it translated to tonight. We’ve still got some things to get ready for Saturday, but I was real happy with our effort tonight.
“… I was real happy with what we did (on the front row). I thought we didn’t have too many unforced errors; we used hands a lot. We’re making some smart plays, but we’re going to have to make a lot more on Saturday.”
The teams traded points in the third set until Fort Loramie scored two straight to take a 13-11 lead. The Redskins ran away from there and pushed the margin to double digits on the way to another 10-point win.
Summer Hoying led Fort Loramie with 15 kills while Victoria Mescher had nine. Barhorst had 27 assists and Avery Brandewie had five aces.
Jackson Center finishes 21-6 overall. It was the Tigers’ third straight regional appearance.
“We tried to run a little bit of different offense and great ready for a little bit different type of defense, and obviously, it didn’t pan out,” Jackson Center coach Kim Metz said. “When you can’t control the first ball, give up eight points in a row, it kind of sucks the air out of the balloon.”
The Tigers will lose five seniors to graduation: Grace Prenger, Keona Suttles, Paige Geuy, Riley Barhorst and Macy Klopfenstein, who was a second team all-SCAL selection.
“They’re great leaders,” Metz said. “… I think every coach knows how much kids come in, how much they work in the offseason, to try to get to this point. I think our leaders have done an awful lot. When we start in July, we go and push an awful lot of buttons just to build our skill. We had a great summer.
“… We made our mistakes along the way, but they picked themselves up. They’re a great bunch to be around, a fun bunch. I appreciate their hard work and their effort.”
Jackson Center will return the bulk of its roster, including McKinley Reichert, who was a first team all-SCAL selection.
The teams played twice in SCAL play in regular season; Fort Loramie won both those matchups 3-0.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.