CLAYTON — A young Russia squad took the New Bremen challenge again in a Division IV regional final on Thursday at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome and couldn’t keep up.
New Bremen beat the Raiders 25-14, 25-11, 25-11 to earn a spot in its second straight regional final and seventh in the last eight years.
The Cardinals, which won their third D-IV state title since 2017 last season, advance to face Fort Loramie in a regional final at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Northmont.
“We kept them constantly out of system tonight, and that’s because we were aggressive from the service line, aggressive from the front row,” New Bremen coach Diana Kramer said. “We played aggressive volleyball tonight.”
Fort Loramie beat New Bremen 3-1 on Sept. 23 and finished as the top-ranked team in Div. IV in the final state coaches association poll; the Cardinals finished with a No. 2 ranking.
“The motivation is the same no matter who we play, when we play,” Kramer said. “We’re locked in, we’re ready to go.
“… Fort Loramie is Fort Loramie. They’ve been really, really good my entire coaching career. They’re long, they’re physical, they’re athletic, they’ve got phenomenal players, they’re dynamic. They’re one of the best teams in this area. It will be a great match.”
New Bremen dominated from the start on Thursday.
The Cardinals scored the first six points to force a Russia timeout. The Raiders scored three straight, but New Bremen retook control. The Cardinals went ahead 15-6 to force Russia’s second timeout and won the first set by 11 points.
The teams traded points early in the second game before New Bremen scored eight of 10 to take an 11-4 lead. The Cardinals pushed their lead to 15-5 to force a Russia timeout; they continued pulling away to a 14-point victory.
“We stayed aggressive,” Kramer said. “I felt like they were constantly on their heels, because we just kept coming after them. …We have a high risk, high reward mentality, which means we’re going to make plenty of mistakes. We made plenty of mistakes from the service line, but we also scored a lot of points and got them out of system.”
New Bremen took a 9-3 lead in the third game to force a Russia timeout and pulled away further to another 25-11 win.
Sophomore middle hitter Mary Rindler led New Bremen (22-4) with 12 kills while senior outside hitter Olivia Heitkamp and junior setter Melina Schrader each had seven kills. Schrader had 25 assists, Heitkamp had four blocks and senior Amelia Dammeyer and junior Keira Steininger each had five aces.
“Most of their team has been here, done it,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said. “When you have two girls who’ve been here and done it, it’s an uphill battle.
“I don’t want to say we’re happy; obviously we’re not happy we lost. But we’re happy to be here. We’re happy to compete, and we’re happy for the experience these younger ones are getting being here, because they’re going to need it next year.”
Russia finishes 16-11 overall. The Raiders will lose four players to graduation, including Roni Poling and Carley Scott, who are multiple-year starters. Poling was a first team all-Shelby County Athletic League selection and Scott was a second team all-league selection.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Watkins said. “I personally had tons of people tell me, ‘You’re going to have a down year, you’re going to rebuild, you’re not getting back to Northmont.’ The seniors as a whole, but especially Roni and Carley, having that experience, they backpacked a lot this year. I can’t say enough about them and their leadership, getting us back here.”
It’s the seventh consecutive year Russia has won a district title and advanced to regionals, and Watkins is hopeful the Raiders will get back next year, with many players set to return.
“A lot of young girls, and we had a lot of firsts, getting through those jitters,” Watkins said. “I really like how the young girls responded. They were excited to be here today. I’m excited about the future. I think Russia volleyball has a lot to look forward to, with this young core of girls we’ve got.”
The two squads faced off in regular season on Aug. 22 in Russia; the Cardinals won that matchup 25-11, 25-22, 25-19.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.