TROY — Russia and Fort Loramie’s volleyball squads will face off in a Division IV regional semifinal for the third straight year on Wednesday at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome. And both think they’re ready for the challenge after winning on each other’s home court in regular season.
Fort Loramie won its 15th consecutive district title by beating Covington 26-24, 25-12, 25-21 on Saturday at Troy High School’s Trojan Activities Center, and Russia followed winning its sixth consecutive district title with a 25-6, 25-15, 25-7 defeat of Cincinnati Christian to set up Wednesday’s semifinal.
It’s the fourth consecutive season the Shelby County Athletic League squads will meet in a regional match. Fort Loramie beat Russia 3-1 in a regional final in 2019, while Russia won a semifinal matchup 3-2 in 2020 and Fort Loramie won a semifinal matchup 3-0 last season.
Russia senior setter Miah Monnin is a four-year starter and has been on the court for each of those tournament matches against the Redskins.
After failing to get out of the regional the last three years — with two season-ending losses coming to Fort Loramie — Monnin said the squad’s nine seniors are hoping to earn a state berth this year.
“That’s been the top of our list,” Monnin said. “We’ve got to give 100 percent hustle. We’ve got to stay positive. If we’re down on each other, it’s just not going to work well. If we’re up and we’re positive, we’re going to gel.
“… If we make a mistake, we’ve just got to move on and move passed it. We’ve got to pick our teammates up and gel together.”
Letting mistakes snowball is the reason both squads blame for the regular season matchup they lost.
Russia (21-5) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Redskins 17-25, 25-27, 25-17, 25-14, 15-13 on Sept. 15 in Fort Loramie.
The Redskins, which have three seniors on the roster and play mostly underclassmen, started strong but couldn’t keep up late. Mental errors — compounded by nerves of underclassmen — hurt the squad late in the match.
“We were more confident that night and didn’t get down on ourselves that much,” junior middle hitter Skyler Albers said. “We just kept on playing our game. We didn’t lose composure. When we got down, we brought ourselves up again. We just kept playing.”
Monnin said nerves on senior night in the Oct. 11 match hurt the Raiders, as did losing senior libero Jilian Chapman halfway through the contest due to an injury. (Chapman’s injury was minor, and she has played in every match since.)
“We’re well-rounded now,” Monnin said. “We’re all gelling together now. We’re ready to play Loramie. We’re ready for a good tournament run, I can feel it.”
Russia has been led in the front row this season by senior Kate Sherman, who was named SCAL player of the year in late October.
Sherman, who became the program’s career kills leaders on Saturday, has made 314 kills and 35 blocks this season and also has 54 aces. She also has been an asset when she plays in the back row; she has 197 digs and over 300 serve receives to her credit.
The Raiders have plenty of capable hitters. Junior Carly Scott has made 199 kills, senior Cece Borchers had made 174, junior Roni Poling has made 131 and senior Kelby Doseck had made 108. Borchers leads the team with 68 blocks while Poling had 40.
Monnin surpassed 3,000 career assists earlier this season is working her way up the OHSAA’s career assists leaderboard; she has 793 to her credit this season and 3,285 for her career, good for sixth place all time.
Chapman leads the squads in digs (277) and serve receives (315) while Scott is second in digs (214).
With Russia’s key players all being upperclassmen, the squad won’t lack experience on Wednesday.
“It takes experience, it takes a little luck, and it takes confidence (to win the regional),” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said. “I think having nine seniors, that will be key for us this year. Having that older, more mature, more experienced team.”
While Fort Loramie has many underclassmen, junior Summer Hoying has been a steadying presence in the front row.
Hoying, a three-year varsity player who earned first team all-SCAL honors this year, has made a team-high 251 kills. She also has 160 digs and a team-high 321 serve receives to her credit.
Albers has made 161 while senior Katrina Berning has made 160, sophomore Avery Brandewie has made 158 and sophomore Victoria Mescher had made 135. Mescher leads the squad with 52 blocks while Albers has 39.
Sophomore Jenna Barhorst has 770 assists to her credit and ranks second on the squad with 187 digs. Sophomore Katie Luthman had 239 digs and 318 serve receives.
Longtime coach John Rodgers said the squad has matured a lot over the season, thanks in part to a strong nonconference schedule.
While the program has won 15 consecutive district titles, he said he was proud this year’s squad kept the streak alive, especially with a tight first game against Covington on Saturday.
“They know how to work hard, but to play and compete and win at a high level is all new,” Rodgers said. “They’re starting to figure it out. I saw the nerves kind of go away today. We were pretty tight and just full of nerves at the beginning of the match. They loosened up as it went on. I think this match will bode us extremely well moving forward.”
There’s no doubt Loramie faced the tougher challenge on Saturday. The Buccaneers (14-8) led at several points in a back-and-forth first game and also led early in the third set. Russia, meanwhile, cruised to its fourth straight lopsided postseason victory.
“It struck us a little bit early today, because we realized this team is really good, and they could get the ball over the net,” Albers said. “We had to change our game and play how we used to play. It took a little bit, but we got there.
“This was a good experience. Russia is a very good team, and if we want to beat them, we have to play really well, because if we don’t, we have a good chance of not winning.”
While Russia hasn’t faced any strong competition yet in postseason play, Monnin said the squad hasn’t lacked for intensity in practice.
“We’ve been having hard practices and haven’t been taking them easy or anything,” Monnin said. “We have our good JV team (we practice against), and we’ve been conditioning hard. We’re ready to play Loramie.”
Wednesday’s semifinal is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. It’s the second semifinal of the night; Jackson Center will face New Bremen at 6 p.m.
Wednesday’s winners will face off in a regional final at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.