By Rob Kiser
FAAIRBORN — Versailles senior middle Danielle Winner couldn’t pass up the moment in the inerview room at the Nutter Center after the Lady Tigers had just won the D-III state volleyball title with a 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 15-9 over Midwest Athletic Conference rival Coldwater, the number one ranked team in the state.
When the Versailles seniors and coach Kenzie Bruggeman were asked about not winning the fourth set after leads of 8-1, 10-4 and 15-9, Winner quickly jumped.
“Well, you have to make it interesting,” Winner said with a laugh.
Did they ever.
And in the end, Versailles scored the final six points of the match to break a 9-9 deadlock and win the program’s second state title. The Lady Tigers also won in 2013.
While Versailles improved 24-6, Coldwater — the No. 1 team in the state — closed its season at 28-2. The Cavaliers only other loss was to fellow MAC member and D-IV state champion New Bremen.
“It (the MAC) is a great conference,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “We play great teams every night and it makes you better. All along, I felt like this was a match that was going to go five sets.”
And while Versailles had let the lead slip away in the fourth set, Bruggeman wasn’t concerned.
“I guess the way we looked at that is if the fourth set had gone to 15, we would have won that,” Bruggeman said with a laugh.
For junior Elizabeth Ording, there was no concern at all.
“I looked over at Kate (Stammen) and said we are going to win this match,” Ording said. “I just knew we were going to win the fifth set — I knew it.”
Bruggeman knew something special was building with this team.
“I think they finally realized it when we beat (defending state champion) Miami East in the regional final,” Bruggeman said about turning the tables on a Coldwater team that had beaten Versailles in four sets in the next to last regular season match. “I think since that match (first Coldwater match), this was something the players were thinking about. They were disappointed, but hoping for another shot at them.”
The race to 15 — and a state title — was close in the early going.
It was still tied 9-9, when Danielle Winner had a kill for a sideout and sent Caitlin McEldowney to the service line.
After an attack error and another kill by Danielle Winner, Mallory Marshal sandwiched two kills around Coldwater’s final timeout to make it 14-9 and bring the Versailles fans to their feet.
McEldowney, a sophomore and the sister of libero Kami McEldowney, finished things with an ace and when the ball fell harmlessly to the floor off the net, the celebration was on.
“I was a manager when my older sister (Kayla McEldowney) was on the team in 2013 and won,” McEldowney said about serving the final five points. “I just thought about that and what I needed to do (to make that happen). I just kept thinking about that moment. This is just amazing.”
After an evenly played first set, which Coldwater won 25-22 — the momentum seemed to swing in the second set.
There were several keys as Versailles won 25-20 and 25-19, then opened a 10-4 lead in the fourth set.
First, the Lady Tigers took their outstanding defense to a another level —finishing the match with 120 digs as a team.
“We knew this was probably going to be the best defensive team we played all year,” Coldwater coach Nikki Etzler said. “Playing in the MAC makes us all better and we knew this was going to be a tough match.”
At the same time, Versailles rightside hitter Ording took her game to another level.
After four kills each in the opening two sets, she had 10 in the third set alone, including three straight points in the middle of the third set. At one point in the third set, she had an incredible 45.5 percent attack percentage.
“No (she didn’t expect that),” Ording said. “I was just trying to do what I needed to to help us win. I was just playing with a lot of confidence.”
Bruggeman praised Ording’s play.
“It is great to have a player —that when you do what you need to do — is able to finish it off and get you to the next point,” she said. “Elizabeth (Ording) did a great job of that.”
Suddenly, Versailles found itself on the verge of a state championship — in four sets.
But, Coldwater showed what it was made of — rallying with the Cavaliers back to the wall in the fourth set.
“We had to make some adjustments with our blocking,” Etzler said. “I think that was what got us back into the match.”
Trailing 15-9, the Cavaliers went on a 9-2 run to take the lead and after Versailles took a 21-20 lead, Coldwater forced the Lady Tigers into five straight attack errors, forcing a fifth set.
“When we were down in the third and fourth sets, I just looked at the girls and said we can’t worry about what is happening on the other side of the net, we can only control what we do,” Coldwater senior Tasha Kahlig said. “We needed to focus on that.”
But, the Lady Tigers were not going to be denied, scoring six straight points in the fifth set for finish off an amazing run.
“We felt like we were playing a lot better now than in the first match with Coldwater,” Ellen Peters said. “And knew they would probably come into the match with a little extra confidence.”
And in the end, it was everything you could ask for in a state championship match.
Versailles had 120 digs, Coldwater 114.
Both teams had 59 assists.
Versailles had 64 kills, Coldwater had 60.
Both teams had 10 team blocks.
“No, I never have (been involved in a match like that),” Bruggeman said. “It was incredible.”
Danielle Winner led the Lady Tiger hitters with 25 kills and five blocks, while Ording finished with 21 kills and two blocks.
Lindsey Winner had eight kills and five blocks, Ellen Peters had four blocks and Peyton Berger added three.
Ellen Peters had 54 assists and 14 digs.
Kami McEldowney and Stammen each served three aces.
Kami McEldowney led the defense with an amazing 38 digs (a new D-III state tournament record for a five-set match), Stammen had 19, Caitlin McEldowney also had 14 and Cassie Peters added 10.
“We have such a great bond back there,” Kami McEldowney said as she put her arm around Kate Stammen. “And having the hitters and blockers we have helps a lot.”
Kahlig had 19 kills and 10 digs for Coldwater.
Lauren Gilliland had 18 kills and four blocks, Allison Sudhoff had 10 kills and four blocks and Taylor Siefring also had four blocks.
Elena Knapke had 47 assists and 18 digs, while Katie Alig led the defense with 37 digs.
Olivia Harlamert had 23 and Siefring added 11.
“Just to play in this match, it was a great experience,” Kahlig said. “To be part of something like this.”
Danielle Winner agreed.
“To win a state championship in our final match was amazing,” she said.
And coming up with a perfect one-liner, just added to the moment.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.