COVINGTON — Fort Loramie is used to being among the top few seeds in the Dayton Division IV sectional tournament. And though the young Redskins are a bit lower at No. 6 this season, their first two sectional games have been easy wins — as normal.
Now comes a big challenge on Wednesday. Fort Loramie, which evened its record to 12-12 with an easy 3-0 win over Dayton Christian on Saturday, will face No. 3 Franklin-Monroe (18-4) in a sectional final.
The Jets beat Houston 3-0 on Saturday in Covington before Fort Loramie’s semifinal against the Warriors. Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers and all Redskins players watched most of Franklin Monroe’s match with clipboards and pens in hand.
“They’re a really nice team,” Rodgers said. “They do a lot of really nice things and play good, scrappy defense. We’re really going to have to work hard.”
The Redskins have relied on several young players this season, including sophomore setter Maya Maurer, freshman outside hitter Ava Sholtis and freshman middle hitter Jada Drees.
Rodgers said there were plenty of mistakes as the younger players became acclimated to playing high-level Shelby County Athletic League and nonconference opponents, but he says they’ve grown into dependable varsity players.
“They’re coming along,” Rodgers said. “We’re really able to fine-tune them now. At the beginning of the year, it was about the big picture and calming them down and breathing. But now we’re able to focus on the small things, and it’s making a big difference with them.”
More varsity newcomers were pushed into action this season after a couple of key players were injured. That contributed to some tough stretches — including a nine-day stretch in which the team lost to SCAL rivals Russia and Jackson Center and nonconference opponents New Bremen, Troy and Fort Recovery.
“It was a tough year record-wise with injuries and everything,” Rodgers said. “We’re in a good position and we’re right where we need to be to keep moving. We’re getting healthy, surprisingly, at the right time and I think we’re going to stay there.
“I’m real proud of the girls. They keep fighting and haven’t given up for a second this year.”
Among the players that are back is sophomore middle hitter McKenzie Hoelscher. Hoelscher had 60 kills in Fort Loramie’s first eight matches but hadn’t played since a win over Versailles on Sept. 1. She played a bit in Saturday’s win over Dayton Christian and had a couple of kills, including one on a hard spike that ended the first game.
The Redskins had no problems with No. 19 seed Dayton Christian, which was able to return the ball only a handful of times in the match. They won the first set 25-8, second 25-9 and third 25-12.
“We focused on serving and passing, serving and passing,” Rodgers said. “When you’re playing a team that’s not quite up to what we’re used to, you focus on your serving and passing. That’s what we did, and we did a good job of that tonight. The girls that were on the floor served well and passed well.”
Junior outside hitter Marissa Meiring and Sholtis led the Redskins with eight kills apiece. Meiring, who was named second team all-SCAL this year, also had 20 assists.
Chloe Stang had seven kills and Alyssa Wrasman had five. Aleah Frilling had 13 assists and Stang and Hannah Pleiman each had five aces.
Riverside 3, Twin Valley South 0
The Pirates got a challenge in each set from Twin Valley South in a Div. IV sectional semifinal on Saturday in Covington but were always able to pull away in a 25-20, 25-21 and 25-20 win.
“We kind of panic when we get down a little bit, but (our players) are really good at pulling it back together and knowing what to do,” Riverside coach Kerri Meade said. “They know where to go to put it away.”
No. 18 Riverside (7-14) advances to face No. 11 Southeastern (11-11) in a sectional final on Wednesday.
“We scrimmaged them in the summer, so we kind of know what to expect,” Meade said. “They have some good middles, so we’ll really push that in practice.”
Riverside stormed out to a 7-3 lead in the first game, but the No, 16 Panthers came back and tied it 10-10. The Pirates later took a 19-14 lead after scoring four straight points, with the last coming on a hard spike by freshman middle blocker Jenna Woods.
“She’s really gained confidence this year,” Meade said. “She can put up a block and she can put a ball down now this year. She’s done great.”
Riverside took a 7-3 lead in the second set by found itself in a 12-12 tie a short time later. Twin Valley South took a 13-12 lead, but the Pirates scored five straight to go ahead 17-13. They pulled out early in the third set and held off the Panthers for a five-point win.
Shelby Giles had a team-high seven kills while Woods had six. Sierra Snow had 11 assists and Allison Knight had 26 digs.
Knight and Snow are both sophomores and are two of many underclassmen Riverside relies on. Ten of the team’s 13 players are sophomore or freshmen.
The inexperience contributed to struggles this year for the Pirates, which were 20-4 last year and won a sectional title. Meade’s happy the team will get another chance at a sectional title this year.
“It feels so good,” Meade said. “These girls have worked so hard this season, and this is there time to show it. …I think a lot of it was building confidence. It takes a little time to get used to it as a freshman.”
Giles, a senior, has helped the newcomers come along this season. She was a first-team all-Northwest Central Conference selection after having 156 kills, 47 aces and 175 digs in regular season.
“She can put the ball down,” Meade said of Giles. “She’s a great athlete.”
Franklin-Monroe 3, Houston 0
Houston struggled against the Jets in a 25-13, 25-10, 25-14 loss in a sectional semifinal on Saturday.
The No. 17 Wildcats played scrappy late and forced Franklin-Monroe to burn through two timeouts in the third set, but they couldn’t come closer than six points after the Jets got out to a big early lead.
“One thing we’ve struggled with this year is being mentally tough, and that second set I had to completely change the lineup,” Houston coach Misty Gibson said. “I stayed with that lineup because I felt like we played better with that.”
Houston, which lost by similar scores in a nonconference match against Franklin-Monroe on Oct. 8, finishes 6-17 overall.
The Wildcats will lose five seniors, including setter Alyssa Kemp and libero Olivia Bowser. Kemp set three school records this season while Bowser set two.
“Overall, we’re progressing, and that’s all I can ask for the program as a whole,” Gibson said. “My underclassmen will have some big shoes to fill next year. It’s progressing, and that’s all I can ask for the girls.”
Lehman Catholic 3, Botkins 0
Lehman Catholic (16-8) rolled to a 25-14, 25-8, 25-11 win over Botkins in Saturday’s first sectional semifinal.
Alexis Snipes had 24 assists for the Cavaliers, while Olivia Lucia had 15 kills and Abby Schutt had three blocks. Pyper Sharkins served six aces and Lauren McFarland had seven digs.
Janell Greve had nine digs, five kills and two solo blocks for the Trojans. Meg Russell had five digs and seven assists and Paige Doseck had eight digs.
Lehman will play Yellow Springs for a sectional title on Wednesday in Covington.
Botkins finishes 3-20 overall. The Trojans will lose five seniors, including Greve.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.