If there was one overarching theme to Friday’s Division I girls volleyball state semifinal – it’s experience.
Cincinnati Ursuline, playing in its 14th state tournament, overcame slow starts in the first and third sets on its way to a 25-22, 25-13, 25-19 win over Olentangy Liberty at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
“The experience – it definitely helps,” Ursuline coach Jeni Case said. “I told our kids that this is probably not going to be as scary as what we see in regionals. It’s an awesome gym, but you’re by yourself. There aren’t people in your face and screaming. You don’t hear them as much as you do at (a high school gym).”
Jen Chapman has built the Liberty program from the ground up – starting 16 seasons ago when the school opened.
The loss is just the first for the Patriots, who fell only three times over the last two seasons.
“I always expected it to feel like a last game, but it didn’t,” Senior Abby Erickson said. “I don’t think it will hit me until later, but I’m just thankful for the experiences. I’m not happy right now, but in hindsight – this season was great.”
Friday marked the first time the Patriots had reached the state tournament, and some of that inexperience showed.
“I feel like today – we knew that we could beat them – we just didn’t execute enough,” junior Claranne Fechter said. “In the future, we have to work on the little things so we can help the younger kids coming up. We have the experience of playing a good team – we just have to make some adjustments.”
Hailey Green had 13 kills, Logan Case had 37 assists and Maggie Huber had 21 digs to lead the Lions, who will be playing for a second straight state championship.
Liberty opened 3-0 and led 4-1, 5-2 and 6-3 in the first set led by Taylor Karlo, Logan Flaugh and Erickson.
But, the Lions (26-2), who finished as the top-ranked team in the final OHSVCA state poll, rallied for four straight points to take the lead.
“They’ve obviously been here before,” Erickson said. “I think we were prepared for this match skill-wise. I think in terms of experience and playing in this arena and playing in this kind of environment – I think that’s what they really had the upper hand in.”
Grace Clark capped a three-point spurt that gave Liberty an 18-16 edge later in the set.
But, Hailey Green took over with three kills in a 5-0 run and Ursuline never trailed again.
Emma Gielas’ kill gave the Lions a 2-1 lead in the second. But, Ursuline put it away with an 11-3 run at the end of the set.
Seventh-ranked Liberty started strong in the third – leading 10-3 on the strength of three kills by Claranne Fecther.
“I don’t think there was a sense of panic at all,” Huber said. “We were down 10-3, but it was always calm.”
Julia Wilkins led an 8-0 run that put the Lions in front for good.
“They’ve got some good height … we knew that was going to be challenging,” Chapman said. “They were just in system enough to be able to get the ball to their key hitters enough times.”
Fechter had 11 kills, Flaugh finished with 22 assists, Maile Steckelberg had 14 digs and Erickson had 2.5 blocks to lead the Patriots (27-1).
“It’s not the result that we wanted, but I’m walking out of here with my head held high,” Chapman said.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at email@example.com.