CLAYTON — Russia gave Fort Loramie a better test in a Division IV regional final on Saturday at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome than it did in two Shelby County Athletic League matches in regular season.
And while the Raiders made a late push, Fort Loramie’s front line took over late to help lift the team to its first regional championship since 2014.
The Redskins beat Russia 25-13, 25-11, 23-25, 25-15 to capture a Div. IV regional title. The squad had qualified for regionals the last four years without advancing to Fairborn.
“It feels amazing to get over that regional hump,” senior outside hitter Marissa Meiring said. “We worked so hard today — everyone did. Everyone put forward a great game today.”
Meiring is one of four seniors for Fort Loramie, and coach John Rodgers credited the group not only with setting the tone in pregame warmups but also setting the tone in practice this week leading up to Thursday’s semifinal and Saturday’s final.
All four of the team’s seniors were part of the school’s girls basketball squad the last two years. Both of those seasons ended with losses to Minster in regional finals.
“Those four seniors really have the team focused,” Rodgers said. “They have them set to think ‘next point, next point, next point.’ That’s their mentality, and they’ve carried that into the other girls.
“… Those four have been at this level so much and lost. We all agreed that there needed to be tears of happiness, not tears of sadness at this level from now on.”
Fort Loramie (26-2) advances to face Newark Catholic in a Div. IV state semifinal on Friday at 6 p.m. at Wright State University’s Nutter Center. Newark Catholic (19-6) beat Shenandoah 3-0 in a regional final on Saturday to advance.
“We just need to be able to adapt next weekend and work as a team,” Meiring said. “We need to fix some little mistakes here and there as a whole, but we can do this.”
The third set on Saturday was the first Fort Loramie had lost since a 3-2 win over Fort Recovery on Sept. 28. Though the wins have come relatively easily for the squad since, Rodgers said the intensity in practice has been increased to insure preparedness for tight situations.
Those tight situations should come next weekend in Fairborn — especially if the squad wins Friday and advances to a potential rematch with New Bremen, which beat defending D-IV state champion Tiffin Calvert 3-1 in a regional final on Saturday in Elida. The Redskins lost 3-1 at New Bremen in a nonconference game on Sept. 21.
“We had a whole good week of practice leading up to this,” Rodgers said. “… The competition in our (gym) every single day is high. It’s high-level competition every single day, and we’re going to continue to do that next week.”
The Redskins have one believer in their ability to come away with a state championship next weekend: Russia coach Aaron Watkins.
“It’ll probably be (Fort Loramie) and New Bremen in the state final,” Watkins said. “I give (Fort Loramie) as good of a chance as anyone.”
Russia finishes 17-11 overall. The squad won a district title this year for the third consecutive year and won a regional game for the first time in program history.
“Taking a set from them was a big thing for us,” Watkins said. “I really think we’re a year away from being able to win a match like this. We’re just really proud of them. We did more than anyone thought we would this year.”
The Raiders will lose two seniors to graduation in middle hitter Jessica York and defensive specialist Alana Gariety. The bulk of the squad’s roster will return, including junior middle hitter Ashley Scott and junior libero Kendall Monnin, who were first team all-SCAL selections.
“We want to win this next year,” Watkins said.
The win was the third for Fort Loramie over Russia this year. The Redskins won two Shelby County Athletic League regular season matchups with 3-0 scores.
The squads battled to a 6-6 tie in the first game, then Fort Loramie scored four consecutive points to force a Russia timeout. The Redskins extended their lead to 17-9 to force another timeout, but the Raiders couldn’t slow them down. Jada Drees hit a kill to end the first game and put Fort Loramie ahead 1-0.
Meiring had five kills for the squad in the first set.
“A senior leading the way,” Rodgers said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do, just get out there and go for it. That’s what she did too.
“But she wasn’t alone and had other girls help. Our other outside hitter, (sophomore) Ava Sholtis, had one of her best games of the season. And defensively, they all contributed. …I can’t pick a player of the game. I don’t have one. Everybody contributed in a huge way and did their job well.”
The Redskins scored the first three points in the second game and extended the lead to 12-5 to force Russia to take another timeout. The squad then added the next five points and pulled away to a 14-point win.
The Redskins pulled out to a 5-4 lead in the third game and then scored three of the next four. Russia pulled back to within 12-10 and later narrowed the gap to one point at 15-14. After trading points, Fort Loramie scored three straight with McKenzie Hoelscher serving to pull ahead 19-15.
Russia pulled within 22-20, then pulled within 23-22 after a couple of Fort Loramie miscues. After a timeout, Scott came up with three consecutive kills on hard spikes to give the Raiders a two-point win and force a fourth game.
“We gathered up after that and just told each other that this is what we’ve prepared ourselves for, this is what we’ve been working for since July. We’ve got this,” Meiring said. “… We have really great team chemistry all around. We get along great; you can see it on the court. We’re very good friends on and off the court, and that helps.”
Russia scored the first point of the fourth game, but Fort Loramie took back over. The Redskins came up with several blocks at the net and other big defensive saves to neutralize Scott and the Raiders’ hitters. They built a 10-3 lead and cruised to a 10-point win to end the match. Hoelscher, a junior middle hitter, scored four of the team’s last six points to close it out.
“I’m glad Russia tested us,” Rodgers said. “That will bode well for us in the future.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.