TIPP CITY — The anticipation has been building for a while, the possibility of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state colliding in the Division 4 State Volleyball Tournament semifinals this week.
The second-ranked Jackson Center Lady Tigers did their part, taking care of County rival and defending D-4 state champion Fort Loramie in three straight Saturday afternoon in the regional championship at Tipp City. But top-ranked McComb, No. 1 all season long, lost to Monroeville in the regional finals at Elida, despite winning the first two games.
So now the Lady Tigers will waltz into the Nutter Center Friday as the favorite to bring home the top hardware. They will take their 26-1 record up against also once-beaten Monroeville, ranked No. 3, in the state semifinals at 4 p.m.
It is the third appearance for Jackson Center in the state tournament under longtime coach Kim Metz, and Saturday’s win helped to ease the sting of being upset in last year’s regional tournanent.
On Saturday, the Lady Tigers were on their game, defeating the only team to beat them, and the only team to take them beyond three games in a match all year. The scores were 25-19, 25-14, 25-17.
The loss brought another excellent season at Fort Loramie to an end with a final 19-9 mark.
The Lady Tigers trailed 5-4 in the first set before going on a 10-1 run to go up 14-6. Cassie Meyer had a solo block, and then tapped the ball into no-man’s land for the final two points in that surge. Loramie got two of the points back, but a service error gave another point to Jackson.
With the score at 18-11, a block on Loramie hitter Caleigh Barhorst followed by kills from Erin Metz and Meyer gave the Lady Redskins a 21-12 lead.
In the second game, Loramie again scored first, but the Lady Tigers pulled out to a 9-2 lead before a Brooke Ruhenkamp kill stopped the rally. But Jackson Center’s blocking became a key, with Metz coming up big, and the lead moved out to 15-6.
“Erin really exploded in that second set,” said Metz. “She had three blocks right there and it got us the momentum. In that first game, it seemed like all we wanted to do was tip the ball over, so we pushed the ball forward and got things going.”
Metz said she was far from comfortable, even with a 2-0 lead, and her concerns were well-founded when Fort Loramie controlled the early part of the third set, leading 12-9. But Christen Ware’s kill and a bad set by Loramie brought the Lady Tigers even, and another kill by Ware gave Jackson a lead it would not relinquish.
A kill by Meyer stretched the lead out to 18-12, and after Loramie got a point on a Barhorst kill, Loramie hit long and Alicia Kessler’s kill made it 20-13.
Loramie charged back, however, on two ace serves by Barhorst to cut the lead to 20-16. But Jackson got two points on a dink and a kill from Meyer, and she then got her devastating jump serve going and served a pair of aces to make it 24-17.
“You’re never comfortable, even when you’re up 2-0,” said Metz. “And it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, let alone a team like Loramie. You have to remember, they’re high school girls, so you just try to keep them focused, and just tell them to relax and play.”
Loramie coach John Rodgers put it in simple terms after the match.
“We got beat by a better team,” he said. “Even when we beat them, we knew they were a great team. But I’m proud of my girls for being at this point. They gave themselves an opportunity to get back to state.”
Jackson Center got 13 kills from Cassie Meyer, seven from Ware and five from Metz.
Kameron Elchert dished out 20 assists, and Metz also finished with four blocks.
Peyton Esser had 16 digs to lead the defense. Pauline Meyer had 12 digs, Cassie Meyer 11 and Elchert 10.
At The Nutter Center
4 p.m. — Jackson Center (26-1) vs. Monroeville (26-1)
6 p.m. — New Philadelphia Tuscarawas Valley (23-5) vs. Waterford (21-6)
Championship — Saturday, 5 p.m.
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818