By Matt Zircher
DAYTON – After dropping its first set since September 3, fans inside the Nutter Center wondered how the Jackson Center volleyball team would respond, having seen Dalton even the match at one set each Friday afternoon.
That question was quickly answered, however, as the Lady Tigers dominated the final two sets to win the Division IV state semifinal match over the Lady Bulldogs, 3-1. The scores were 25-19, 22-25, 25-8, 25-11.
Jackson, now 29-0 on the season, will attempt to win its second straight title and third consecutive by the Shelby County League on Saturday at 3, facing New Philadelphia Tuscarawas Central Catholic in a rematch of last year’s final. TCC outlasted McComb in five sets in the other semifinal, a match that featured 49 ties and 17 lead changes.
Dalton had early control of the first set as 6-2 middle blocker Emma Granger opened with a pair of kills and the Bulldogs later went up 7-3 following a Lady Tiger attack error. Granger, though, left the lineup following a service error and Jackson took advantage, tying the score on back-to-back service aces from Cassie Meyer and a kill by Raquel Kessler.
The Lady Tigers took their first lead of the match at 12-10 on a Camryn Hoehne kill and a Dalton hitting error and later extended the margin to 16-11 with four straight points, including a Vanessa Winner ace.
The Lady Bulldogs closed the gap to as close as 22-18 before Jackson won the set by scoring three of the final four points, two on kills by Winner and Alicia Kessler.
In the second set, the Lady Tigers looked to be in control, going up 15-8 following a block from by the Kessler sisters. Dalton, though, rallied to tie it at 17 after four consecutive points, capped off by a Katie Huth kill.
After a timeout, Meyer put Jackson back in front with a kill, only to see the Lady Bulldogs rattle off three straight points to go ahead for good. The Lady Tigers only trailed 23-22 following an attack error, but kills by Kirsten Shoup and Granger wrapped up the Dalton comeback and evened the match at one set apiece.
“We had the lead in the second set, but we had some breakdowns and Dalton took advantage,” said Jackson coach Kim Metz. “We nearly came back, but just couldn’t recover.”
It was only the fourth set that Jackson has lost all season and the first since dropping the first two sets against New Bremen on September 3 before rallying to win the final three and the match.
But just when it looked like the Lady Bulldogs would have momentum on their side, Jackson quickly snatched it away from them in the third set.
After back-to-back Granger kills gave Dalton an early 2-1 edge, the Lady Tigers responded by scoring the next seven points, including consecutive Hoehne kills and an Alicia Kessler ace. Another 6-0 spurt pushed the lead to 17-5, a run that saw Meyer record four straight aces.
Jackson tallied the final three points of the third set and carried that into the fourth set, building a 9-1 bulge thanks in part to four Meyer kills.
Four more points extended the lead to 13-3 and the Lady Bulldogs would get no closer than eight the rest of the way as the Lady Tigers closed out the match strong by scoring the final five points.
“We talked about controlling the tempo of the match and we did a good job of that in the first two sets,” said Dalton coach Allison Hostetler. “But Jackson Center was able to take control over the final two sets, especially Meyer, and we didn’t have an answer for that.”
“We came out with more determination the final two sets,” said Metz. “We showed a lot of maturity and focus and we maintained our balance. Our experience in the state tournament last year was huge in getting us through that rough stretch and getting us back on track.”
“We came together as a team,” said Meyer. “Our blocking and passing were better and we starting clicking. We knew that after giving up one set, we didn’t want to give up another.”
Through the first two sets, Jackson posted 27 kills compared to 25 for Dalton. Over the final two sets, the Lady Tigers recorded 28 kills with only three errors compared to 15 kills and 12 errors for the Lady Bulldogs. Jackson finished with 55 kills overall to Dalton’s 40 and led 7-2 in blocks.
Meyer led the way for the Lady Tigers with 20 kills and eight aces, and Hoehne nearly had a triple-double with nine kills and eight digs to go along with 21 assists. Kamryn Elchert posted a double-double of 21 assists and 12 digs, Alicia Kessler and Raquel Kessler had seven kills each, Christen Ware chipped in 12 digs and Winner 11 along with six kills.
“We haven’t played a team this season as diverse as Jackson Center,” said Hostetler. “They can set it to anybody and they have so many options on the court. Their service attack is different than anyone else we’ve played and we struggled with Meyer’s top spin. Normally, our service receive is one of our strengths, but it wasn’t there for us today.”
Granger paced Dalton, which finished the season at 25-4, with 18 kills while Shoup had seven kills and 14 digs.