CLAYTON — New Bremen coach Diana Kramer’s warning to her players before playing in a regional semifinal against Fort Loramie on Thursday was “favorites don’t normally win.”
Her players weren’t convinced — and didn’t have any reason to be the way they played against the Redskins.
New Bremen, the defending Division IV state champions, cruised to 25-22, 25-14, 25-13 win over Fort Loramie at Northmont’s Thunderdome to advance to Saturday’s regional final against Jackson Center. The Tigers beat Russia 3-1 in Thursday’s second semifinal.
“We’re confident moving forward, but we’re also incredibly hungry and humble at the same time,” Kramer said. “The favorites usually don’t win, that’s been my message to them. They’ve got to find a way to break that.”
Fort Loramie, which struggled through injuries to a 10-12 record in regular season, kept pace in the first set and halfway through the second. The Cardinals (22-4) dominated from there, constantly sending spikes to the floor in front of Fort Loramie defenders and playing stout defense.
“This might be our most complete match of the entire year,” Kramer said. “We were in control at the service line. We didn’t get aced a single time tonight, knock on wood. Our attackers were swinging away. Everyone in our front row had at least five or six kills. We’re really hard to beat when we’re passing balls to target.”
Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers said he was pleased that the team fought back in the first and second sets — and during the season. The Redskins (14-13) won five consecutive matches before Thursday’s semifinal, all by 3-0 scores.
“I’m not disappointed in our girls at all,” Rodgers said. “We battled every step of the way. Bremen just has the ability to keep the pressure on all the time. That’s something that championship teams do. You can’t take a breath against them. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. When you have some young players like I have on the floor, they’re just not ready for that yet.”
New Bremen took an early 15-8 lead in the first game, but Fort Loramie fought back. McKenzie Hoelscher had a kill to cut the deficit to 16-11, then Maya Maurer followed with a block and Hoelscher had another kill to cut it down to three points.
Two New Bremen errors then brought Fort Loramie within 16-15, and a double contact violation then tied it up.
The squads traded points until an 18-18 tie, then the Cardinals pulled away by scoring the next five points, three of which came on Fort Loramie defensive miscues.
Fort Loramie scored three consecutive points after New Bremen took a 24-19 lead, but Josie Reinhart placed a spike in front of a diving Marissa Meiring to end it.
“We had moments of doing some really, really good things there, but to keep it up at that level for an entire 25 points is tough,” Rodgers said. “That’s what championship teams do.”
The Cardinals took a 6-3 lead early in the second and kept their advantage at three until two defensive miscues brought Fort Loramie within 11-10. After the squads traded points, New Bremen scored five of the next six to take a 17-12 lead. After a timeout, the Cardinals scored eight of the last 10 to close it out.
New Bremen took a 13-5 lead in the third set and cruised to a 12-point victory.
“You have to hand it to New Bremen this year,” Rodgers said. “They came through the battles this year. They came through the (Midwest Athletic Conference) and handled the battles. You don’t get worse playing in the MAC, fighting at that level every week. They’re able to beat you from so many different areas. They’re so well-balanced. That takes its toll on you after a while.”
Macy Puthoff led New Bremen with eight kills while Claire Pape had seven. Rachel Kremer and Taylor Paul each had six and Reinhart and Ashton Heitkamp each had five. Madison Pape had 14 assists and Blake Snider had eight digs.
Hoelscher led Fort Loramie with seven kills while Emily Austin and Hannah Pleiman each had eight digs. Pleiman had a couple of diving digs in the first set to help the team rally.
“I just told her in the locker room that I’m very proud of her tonight,” Rodgers said of Pleiman. “There’s a kid that just worked her tail off all season. She came into the season and didn’t have a starting spot, worked hard, earned a starting spot, and made a ton of big plays tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Fort Loramie will lose six seniors to graduation, including Pleiman, setter Aleah Frilling, libero Emily Austin and outside hitter Chloe Stang. Rodgers said he’s proud of how the group worked this season.
Fort Loramie will return the bulk of its starters, including Meiring, Hoelscher and Ava Sholtis, who are outside or middle hitters.
“There’s no substitute for getting out there and playing at this level,” Rodgers said. “It takes a lot of matches like this to get you to the point that you’re going to refuse to lose one like this. It drives you. That’s something that drives you, and that’s something we’re working on getting them to understand, the mentality it takes to play at this level.”
New Bremen beat Fort Loramie 3-1 in a regional final next year. The Cardinals will look to knock off another Shelby County Athletic League team on Saturday in Jackson Center.
“They (Jackson Center) have the ability to do some damage to them, but are they going to be able to do it consistently? That’s going to be the catch right there,” Rodgers said. “If they’re able to do it consistently for an entire set for 75 points, you don’t know what’s going to happen. If there’s any inconsistencies, New Bremen’s certainly going to take advantage of it.”
New Bremen beat Jackson Center 3-0 in a nonconference match on Sept. 1.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.