FAIRBORN — Before the start of each season, New Bremen players gather in coach Diana Kramer’s basement and write a poem. They’re not allowed to eat a meal cooked by Kramer until she deems the work satisfactory.
The poem the players crafted this year included this line: “Last year’s season ended in defeat/we will not let it repeat.”
The players made good on their poem’s promise on Saturday.
The Cardinals won their third state championship in the last six seasons by beating Monroeville 25-17, 25-23, 25-21 in the Division IV final at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
It was the fifth time in the last six years the squad had advanced to the Div. IV championship match. The lone season they didn’t advance came last year when they were beaten 3-1 in a district final by Midwest Athletic Conference foe New Knoxville, which went on to win the state final.
The loss was the first and only of the 2021 campaign for the Cardinals. They vowed in Kramer’s basement last summer not to let something similar happen again this year.
The Cardinals (28-1) didn’t lose a set in tournament play until a 3-1 semifinal win over Convoy Crestivew on Thursday. The Eagles (24-5) posed a challenge on Saturday and built significant leads in each set, but New Bremen always regrouped and pulled away.
“The biggest thing that happens in between every single point, every set, is our team brings it in,” senior libero Abi Powers said. “When we go in that circle, we don’t focus on what just happened, anything that the other team did. We focus on ourselves.
“I think the reason why we come back and we work together so well is because when we go in that circle and we say to each other to take a deep breath, we do it for each other.”
The teams traded runs in the first set. Monroeville built an 11-9 lead, but the Cardinals scored three straight points to take a 12-11 lead and later scored three straight points to take a 21-16 lead.
The Eagles built a 15-12 lead in the second game, but New Bremen pulled within 16-15, then took a 17-16 lead after two aces by Keiria Steininger.
The teams played to a 24-23 score, but Rianna Paul came up with a set-ending kill to give the squad a 2-0 lead.
The Eagles built an early lead in the third set, but New Bremen four straight points to take a 13-8 lead and later scored four straight to boost the advantage to 19-14. Monroeville scored four straight points to pull within 24-21 late, but Paul again came up with a set-ending kill to seal the 3-0 victory.
“I think the biggest difference is our expectation that we’re going to bounce back, we’re going to find a way, we’re going to respond to mistakes,” Kramer said. “… We know that we’re going to make mistakes. Volleyball is a game of mistakes. So bouncing back and responding to those mistakes is incredibly important.”
Junior outside hitter Olivia Heitkamp led the squad with 19 kills while Paul, a senior, had nine. Melina Schrader and Mary Rindler each had five.
Powers led the squad with 18 digs while Amelia Dammeyer had 11. Heitkamp had three blocks.
The squad will lose four seniors to graduation, including Powers and Paul. Megan Reinhart and Mia Schmitmeyer are also seniors.
Schmitmeyer suffered a serious knee injury in May and missed the season, but still played a crucial role according to Kramer.
“It’s been very trying,” Kramer said. “Mia was our dude last year. Mia was an all-Ohio player. She may not show up in (today’s) stats, but she was important to everything we did.”
Schmitmeyer, who dressed Thursday and Saturday, celebrated with teammates on the court after the final point.
Soon after, the squad hoisted the D-IV trophy while facing its crowd, which had over 2,000 people.
“The coolest thing is just looking up in the crowd and seeing everybody there,” Kramer said. “It’s a great time to be a Cardinal. The energy in our town is just unbelievable. While the volleyball team won a championship today, more importantly, New Bremen won a championship.”
With most of the squad set to return, the Cardinals may win another championship next season.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.