BROOKVILLE — Versailles struggled in Midwest Athletic Conference play the last two seasons but dominated in tournament play on its way to earning Division III state championships.
With the team reaching new lows in MAC play this season, coach Kenzie Bruggeman said she challenged the team to do the same as other recent years and excel in postseason play.
In a Div. III district semifinal win over Anna on Wednesday in Brookville, the Tigers looked like a squad ready to make a run at another state title.
Versailles beat the Rockets 25-17, 26-24, 25-20 to earn their seventh consecutive district final berth. The Tigers (13-12) will try for a seventh consecutive district championship when they face Williamsburg on Saturday at Northmont’s Thunderdome.
Versailles, the No. 4 seed in the sectional, entered tournament play with an 11-12 record. Over half the squad’s losses came in MAC play, as it stumbled against the many state-ranked teams in the conference to a 2-7 record.
“I’m just super proud and happy that the see what we’ve preached all along, that it’s not about wins and losses,” Bruggeman said. “It was how we are growing as a team, how you’re growing as a teammate.
“I think this showed tonight. We did not get rattled when Anna made their pushes. We got up and stayed consistent. I am super proud of how we have grown as a team.”
Versailles has boasted one of the area’s tallest lineups in recent years, which has proved to be a problem for tournament opponents.
The squad has four players 6-foot-0 or taller, including senior middle hitter Lindsey Winner and senior outside hitter Raegen Shaffer, who led the team with 11 and 10 kills, respectively, on Wednesday. Junior hitter Brooker Stonebraker (6-3) added eight kills and had five blocks, and Winner had five blocks as well.
It was the second time Anna had lost to the Tigers this year. The Rockets, who lost a nonconference matchup 3-1 at Versailles on Aug. 20, tried to counteract a height differential. The squad has one player over 5-11 but stayed close for most of the first two sets.
The Tigers adjusted late, though, and pulled away. They scored 10 of the last 14 points in the second set to rally from a 20-16 deficit and slowly pulled away in the third set.
“They started to read into our game plan and switched some things up, and they kind of took it from there,” Anna coach Kelli Zumberger said.
The teams traded points early in the first set. After Anna took a 13-12 lead, the Tigers battled back to tie it 15-15 and then scored 10 of the last 12 to pull away.
Anna built a 14-10 lead in the second set, which forced Bruggeman to take a timeout. After trading points to a 20-16 score, the Tigers scored four straight to tie it. Freshman setter Kirsten Bornholt made a big diving save during one rally in the run and finished it with a kill.
“The save that she had in front of the pole was unbelievable,” Bruggeman said. “That got everybody all (excited).”
Winner had a kill on a hard spike to give Versailles a 25-24 lead, then Shaffer came up with a kill on a soft spike to end it.
“I can’t say enough about the whole team,” Bruggeman said. “We’ve battled with that the whole year. When we get put in pressure situations, we start to get the feeling of, ‘Oh no.’ But you could feel it tonight that they just looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, we just need to do one thing at a time.’ …It was just a whole team effort.”
The Tigers took an early 6-4 lead in the third game and the teams traded points to a 12-10 score. Versailles then scored two consecutive points and pulled away from there.
Anna finishes 14-11 overall and will lose six seniors to graduation: Liz Michael, Madison Roe, Lauren Barhorst, Macy Wiktorowski, Maggie Stiefel and Emily Bertke.
It’s the first time since 2014 the squad hasn’t won a district title.
“They’ve played together since seventh grade and have had a lot of ups and downs with injuries and whatnot,” Zumberger said. “This is a tough group. It’s going to be tough to replace all six, who all played tonight. It’ll be some big shoes to fill.”
Bornholt led Versailles with 31 assists on Wednesday while Caitlin McEldowney had a team-high 14 digs.
Wiktorowski led Anna with 13 kills while Roe had seven. Mary Landis had 20 assists. Michael had a team-high 22 digs and Wiktorowski had 15 digs. Barhorst and Wiktorowski each had two block assists.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.