TROY — Fort Loramie and Russia’s volleyball teams breezed to Division IV district championships on Saturday at Troy High School’s Trojan Activities Center. Neither is expecting a breeze when they meet on Thursday in a regional match for the second consecutive year.
The Redskins (23-3) and Raiders (21-4) will face off in the second of two regional semifinals on Thursday evening at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome.
It’ll be the third meeting this season between the squads, which shared the Shelby County Athletic League title after splitting their regular-season matchups.
“I think we’re both sitting at about the same place,” Russia senior libero Kendall Monnin said after the team’s 3-0 win over Cedarville on Saturday. “I think that game comes down to who wants it more. Both teams are really great and we both worked to be where we’re at. I think that game is going to be who wants it more at that time. And we want it.”
The teams met three times last season, including in a regional final. The winner of this year’s regional semifinal matchup will face either Tri-Village or New Bremen in a regional final on Saturday at Northmont. Those two squads will face off at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in a semifinal; Russia and Fort Loramie are scheduled to start two hours later.
Tri-Village beat Jackson Center in the first of three district finals on Saturday in Troy. Russia followed with a 25-18, 25-8, 25-11 victory over Cedarville to capture its fourth consecutive district title.
The squad started this season 3-1 but then didn’t play for two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak at the school. After it restarted on Sept. 15, they played four matches in a week and lost two, the second of which was a 3-0 loss at Fort Loramie on Sept. 22. Russia won the teams’ first matchup 3-1 on Aug. 27.
The Raiders have won 16 of their last 17 matches, and Watkins thinks the players really got back into full swing in October. They posted a 3-1 win over Centerville on Oct. 16 and followed the next morning with a 3-0 win over Dayton Christian.
“That last week (of regular season) we had a really tough schedule …and we finished on a really high note,” Watkins said. “I really think we’re in a good place. We’ve kind of turned a corner since that two-week break. …We just weren’t quite the same after that, but we’re back where we were.”
Russia lost the bulk of its players to graduation after the 2018 season and struggled through most of the early part of last season but won its last eight regular-season matches, then cruised through tournament play before losing 3-1 to the Redskins in a regional final.
Now that the squad’s underclassmen have a year of experience, Watkins is hoping they’ll be ready to pull off a big win in a rubber match with Fort Loramie.
“They all have another year of experience, another year of growth, another year of maturity,” Watkins said. “I think that’s been a big part of it, just growing.”
Sophomore middle hitter Kate Sherman has made a team-high 297 kills and 60 blocks while sophomore outside hitter Cece Borchers has made 148 kills and 52 blocks. Senior outside hitter Ashley Scott has made 289 kills and 42 blocks.
Scott helps Monnin lead the team’s defense. Monnin has made a team-high 408 digs; Scott is second with 199.
“Me and Ashley have really taken control of this team and where we want to take it,” Monnin said. “They all know what it’s like to lose at (regionals) and no one wants to go back to that feeling. We all want it just as bad.”
Fort Loramie finished Saturday’s D-IV district finals off with a 25-7, 25-10, 25-15 victory over Miami Valley Christian Academy. The victory secured the program its 13th consecutive district championship.
“I feel really good about what we did today,” Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers said. “We’re right where we need to be to get back to where we want to go.”
The Redskins, which lost to New Bremen in the D-IV state championship match last year, lost 25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 25-17 at Russia in the teams’ first matchup. It was Fort Loramie’s third match of the season, and the squad was still getting used to playing without one of its leading returning starters in Ava Sholtis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first match.
The Redskins beat Russia 25-18, 25-18, 25-13 on Sept. 22 in Fort Loramie.
“They’re a really good team,” Fort Loramie senior middle hitter Kenzie Hoelscher said. “They’ve got a lot of experience compared to this time last year. I think that they’re going to be ready to play, so we just need to do things that we do best, like our serving.
“… I think that second game (against Russia), we had a lot more confidence. That was on our home court and we were like, ‘We’re getting this game, we’re not losing on our home court.’”
Hoelscher, who was named the SCAL’s player of the year, has made a team-high 381 kills and ranks third on the team with 49 aces. She also leads the team with 79 blocks and ranks third with 176 digs.
Five players have over 120 kills to their credit, six have 115 or more digs, six have 20 or more blocks and six have 29 or more aces.
Junior middle hitter Jada Drees ranks second on the team with 172 kills while freshman outside hitter Summer Hoying, senior middle hitter Hannah Raterman and senior outside Jadyn Puthoff have all made between 121 and 130 kills.
Hoelscher is hoping the depth Fort Loramie has on both the front row and back row helps the squad win a second consecutive regional title.
“That is something we’ve been pushing towards,” Hoelscher said. “We’re playing each game like it’s our last. We’re trying to make the most of every game.
“… We just need to really play our game. Our serving’s been really good; we really emphasize our serving. We need to get our serves in, have our serve receive on point. We just need to play like it’s our last game.”
Rodgers said there isn’t anything Russia and Fort Loramie don’t know about each other.
“That’s part of it (tournament play),” Rodgers said of facing a familiar opponent. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to face teams you’re familiar with. It’s part of southwest Ohio. You play a tough schedule and a tough league, that’s what you get. The only difference is this time is it’s going to be at a neutral site.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.