Senior Heather Littlejohn’s 14 kills led the Olentangy Liberty volleyball team to a straight-set victory over Delaware Hayes in the Division I district semifinals Thursday in Whitehall.
Liberty coach Jen Chapman said it was her leadership that showed more than the stats.
“(Littlejohn has) been consistent all season,” Chapman said. “I thought tonight, she stepped up with being a court leader as well. It was kind of a young group out there. I thought she did a good job of being consistent and picking up everybody else out there, too.”
The second-seeded Patriots (23-1) were without senior setter Maddie Fogg, who missed the game because of a finger injury. So, Chapman needed Littlejohn to step up.
“We’ll see how she is on Saturday – she thinks she’s going to be able to play,” Chapman said.
Liberty, which extended its winning streak to 17 games, started fast in each set of a 25-12, 25-18, 25-20 victory to make the district final round for the third consecutive season and seventh in the last eight.
“We knew we were going to be good. We knew we had potential, but we didn’t know we were going to be this successful,” Littlejohn said. “We’re really close and we really trust each other and love each other so much.”
“I think they genuinely care about each other and they don’t want the season to end,” Chapman said. “I think they want to keep spending time with each other. At this time of year – that means a lot.”
Freshman Logan Flaugh was pressed into action, replacing Fogg at setter. She performed quite well with 35 assists.
“She really played great,” Littlejohn said. “Right before we got on the bus, she was told she was going to play … and she really stepped up.”
“She’s always played for a top club team,” Chapman said. “She’s been in a lot of tough situations – competitive situation – so, I don’t think this was overly shocking to her.”
Abby Erickson and Claranne Fechter had eight kills apiece, Taylor Karlo had seven blocks and Maile Steckelberg had 13 digs to lead the Patriots.
The 13th-seeded Pacers have been playing without one of their leaders, Julia Kaylor, who has been out with a knee injury after hurting it on Senior Night.
Hayes coach Liz Kaylor-Palmer thought maybe her team made the moment bigger than it had to be.
“We just lacked some confidence and some calmness that first set,” Kaylor-Palmer said. “We came out and were just nervous. I think we had a bigger picture of what Liberty was even before we walked out on the court. I think we were thrown off that we had the chance to compete.”
She was impressed with her team’s fight on what was an emotional night. It’s the final game for the coach, who is moving up to Michigan in a couple of weeks.
“In terms of growth from set one to set three, I’m extremely proud,” Kaylor-Palmer said. “I think our defense picked up at the end. I definitely think our offense started to clean it up a little bit. We still made a lot of errors … I think at the end of the day, that was our fault. We just made more errors than Liberty did.”
Hayes won just three games her first year after winning two games the previous year, but has grown into a program that has made the semifinals back-to-back years after last appearing in 2004.
“I get a lot of praise – which is so unbelievably kind – for the growth that this program has made. But, it’s on those girls – especially those five seniors. They’re the ones that put the work in and made something of this program and I expect it to continue.”
When the ball hit the ground on the final point, Kaylor-Palmer was in tears and she continued to fight back tears afterward.
“I’m just so proud,” she said. “This is why I paused my life and stayed here was for this group of girls and the hard work that they put in.”
Hadlee Bruns had nine kills, Lauryn Rocassin had 12 assists and seven kills, Sydney Krewson had 11 digs and six kills and Audrey Hannahs had 16 digs to lead the Pacers (16-8).
“I’ve seen (Hannahs) play some good games and that was one of her best for sure,” Kaylor-Palmer said. “The plays she was making were phenomenal and those weren’t plays that she was able to make last year.”
Liberty advances to meet seventh-seeded Gahanna Lincoln Saturday at 4 p.m. at Whitehall-Yearling.
Kelsie Imertreijs had a team best 12 kills while Kaley Rammelsberg chipped in 11 of her own to lead the second-seeded Big Walnut volleyball team to a three-set win over sixth-seeded Licking Valley in Thursday’s Division II district semifinal at Licking Heights.
The Golden Eagles won the first set 25-15 before sealing the deal with back-to-back wins of 25-14 and 25-19.
Other BW standouts included Mac Podraza, who finished with six kills and three aces; and Meredith Thomas, who had five aces in the win.
Shekinah Christian def. Delaware Christian 25-23, 19-25, 25-21, 25-20 (Division IV district semifinal).
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.