Junior Kaley Rammelsberg summed it up when she said, “I know that the banner is going to be there forever,” after her Big Walnut volleyball team wrapped up a straight-set victory over London to win a Division II district championship Saturday afternoon in Pataskala.

The victory puts a 17th district title banner on the wall in the gymnasium at Big Walnut High School – all under the leadership of coach Ron Lehman, who took over the program in 1989.

On this night, the second-seeded Golden Eagles (22-3) dispatched London in relatively short order in the first two sets before having to come from behind in the third of a 25-17, 25-21, 26-24 victory at Licking Heights High School.

“We were just really hyped,” Rammelsberg said. “We had a lot of adrenaline (in the first two sets) and were just excited for the match.”

And when Sammi Bickley’s ace hit the ground on the final point, players leaped like they were shot out of a rocket.

It was ironic that an ace ended the match. That was the one bugaboo that kept haunting the Eagles throughout the match. They had 14 serving errors for the game.

“We talk a lot about having the momentum and keeping the momentum,” said junior Machaela Podraza, who had 23 assists and seven kills. “But, I think we realized that if we’re not making our serves, we have to make up for it in other aspects.”

Lauren Speelman sent a serve into the net on match point with BW leading 24-21 in the third set, opening the door for London. The Eagles had run off five straight points leading up to that point, which gave them their first lead in the set since 2-1.

“We kind of felt like we had momentum most of the game, so I don’t think we went out as strong as we should have (in the third set),” Podraza said. “I think Lauren Speelman helped us out with those serves at the end of the game.”

“It was frustrating,” Lehman said about his team’s service. “Our better servers were missing serve after serve. Then you’re giving the other team points and not giving yourself a chance to score.”

Addison Conley and Rachel Alexander followed with back-to-back kills that tied it up 24-24 for the fourth-seeded Red Raiders.

Kelsie Imertreijs gave the Eagles the lead again before Bickley’s game-winner.

BW trailed most of the set. London led by as much as five a couple of times before the Eagles scored five of six points to pull it to 12-11. But, every time the Eagles would get it to one, London responded with a couple of points until the five-point run, highlighted by kills by Rammelsberg and Imertreijs.

“I think they’re really competitive and they just kept (fighting),” Lehman said. “(Speelman) had done a great job serving and getting us out (to a lead). She just missed on the last one.”

Rammelsberg had 14 kills and four assisted blocks and Imertreijs added 13 kills and tied for the team lead in digs with eight with Meredith Thomas to lead BW. Bickley chipped in 18 assists and a team-high two aces.

The Eagles were 1-2 through the first three games of the season and had lost 10 sets through four matches.

Since, they’ve been white hot, losing just eight sets the rest of the way on their way to an OCC-Capital championship – an appetizer to Saturday’s second course.

“We felt like we had the talent (to win a district title) if we could get them all working together and bring them along as a team,” Lehman said. “We started off losing two of our first three matches. We felt like we were coming along (then) and we’re peaking at the right time (now).”

Conley had eight digs and four blocks to go with eight kills, Claire Vanhorn had 11 kills and Arianna Calloway had 27 assists to lead the Red Raiders (22-3).

BW advances to Thursday’s regional semifinal at Zanesville against Dover, which starts at 6 p.m.

Big Walnut’s Machaela Podraza (10) lofts a shot over the outstretched arms of London’s Malorie Colwell (7) and Ryleigh Bexfield (11) during Saturday’s Division II district championship at Licking Heights High School.
http://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2017/10/web1_mac_cmyk.jpgBig Walnut’s Machaela Podraza (10) lofts a shot over the outstretched arms of London’s Malorie Colwell (7) and Ryleigh Bexfield (11) during Saturday’s Division II district championship at Licking Heights High School. Ben Stroup | Gazette

By Michael Rich

For the Gazette