TROY — The anticipation among Russia’s players grew with each point in the third set of a Division IV district final on Saturday at Troy’s Trojan Activities Center. When the Raiders finished off a big run to earn the win, they let out their biggest yell of the day.
After a district runner-up finish last year, Russia captured a Div. IV district title with a 25-15, 25-15 and 15-16 win over the Pirates.
“Towards the end when we were counting down to the points to get the district, we just got real excited, because we knew what we didn’t do last year, we were finishing this year,” senior libero Whitney Pleiman said. “We’ve worked really hard for this.”
It’s the first district final for the program in 14 years. Russia (19-7) will advance to face Fort Loramie in a regional semifinal on Thursday at Northmont. Loramie beat Miami Valley Christian Academy 3-0 in the nightcap Div. IV district final at Troy.
Russia lost in five sets to Lehman Catholic last year.
“I think the difference (from last year), honestly, is just confidence,” senior libero Whitney Pleiman said. “Going into this year, we knew that we had the talent, but we lack confidence at Russia, so putting it all together finally is awesome.”
Russia coach Aaron Watkins credited Pleiman and Russia’s other seniors for leading the team to the district final.
“They are great leaders,” Watkins said. “They push these girls every day, and they’ve wanted this and made it come true. …They didn’t want to go home feeling that same way this year. I know they’re hungry to win in the next round, too.”
After Russia took an 11-6 lead in the first game, Riverside went on a run to cut the lead to 13-12. After Watkins called a timeout, the Raiders scored the next five points to pull ahead.
Russia jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the second set and cruised. Riverside stayed close early in the third, but the Raiders went on a 6-2 run to take a 17-11 lead in the third set and put it away from there.
Now the Raiders will try to win a regional title. Watkins said it won’t be easy, with perennial contenders Jackson Center and Fort Loramie in the region as well as New Bremen, which finished the season as the top-ranked Div. IV team in the state.
“It will take two perfect games,” Watkins said. “We’ll take one game at a time, and if we can get past Loramie and to Saturday’s (regional) final, we’ll take it from there.”
Fort Loramie and Russia split regular-season matches. Loramie won in three sets on Sept. 14, and Russia won in four sets on Oct. 10.
“They were completely different,” Watkins said. “The first time we played really flat. I don’t know if the girls thought they were just going to have the game given to them. But the second one at home on senior night, the girls wanted it. I have a feeling that’s how this one’s going to be. Those seniors aren’t going to want to lose, and they’re going to show up.”
Pleiman knows a regional title will be hard to accomplish but thinks the team’s tough schedule this season has taught the team how beat good opponents.
“We’ve definitely taken a lot of hard losses,” Pleiman said. “They’ve taught us so many things. We always come in day-in and day-out and work hard.”