By Josh Brown
KETTERING — As they entered Fairmont’s Trent Arena for the next-to-last time, the Miami East volleyball team’s seniors couldn’t help but reflect on four years of regional tournaments.
“We came in here like, ‘Ah … memories,” senior Kyndall Hellyer, one of the Vikings’ two captains, said. “We’ve had some good memories in this gym, and some very bad memories.”
Come Saturday, the Vikings will now have the chance to make one more memory.
Facing what has become a regular postseason rival over the past eight years, Miami East (24-3) took it to Anna early and didn’t let up, sweeping the Rockets 25-14, 25-15, 25-19 in the Division III regional semifinal Thursday night at Fairmont, advancing to its third consecutive regional championship match.
And even though Miami East has reached the state tournament for the past two years and has advanced the the regional tournament in each of the past seven seasons, it still hasn’t gotten old for the team’s veteran leaders.
“It’s still just as cool as it was,” said senior captain and Penn State commit Jonni Parker. “You’ve got to take pride in what you do and enjoy what you’re doing. You’ve got to enjoy the ride and appreciate it while you can.”
“It’s such a great feeling,” Hellyer said. “We’ve been playing conference games for so long now, and at some point, you get into a bit of a routine. But coming to this atmosphere, it changes it up, and we all feel it.”
Now the defending state champion Vikings will face another familiar regional foe, Versailles, in the regional final on Saturday. The Tigers were the last team to defeat the Vikings in the regional tournament, knocking them out in the semifinal round in 2013 and 2014.
In fact, the Vikings have played either Anna or Versailles in the regional tournament every year during their seven-year streak.
In 2011 and 2012 during its back-to-back state title years, East ran into Anna, defeating the Rockets in four in the semifinal in 2011 and sweeping them in the final in 2012. In 2013 and 2014, it was back-to-back semifinal losses to Versailles, in 2015 it was a semifinal victory over Anna and last year it was a four-set semifinal win over Versailles en route to a third state title during that stretch.
“I’m so excited to be playing Versailles,” Hellyer said. “Before the game, we said ‘are we going to see anyone different?’ But as soon as we knew that we had Anna, and that Versailles was also in the mix, we took control of it. We were like alright, we know these schools and know what they do. We’ve definitely always had that rival mentality against them.”
And the Vikings aren’t letting that past success get in the way of their future this season, either — despite practically being christened this year’s state champ after winning it last season.
“It hasn’t been that different,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said of the pressure to repeat. “We haven’t really talked about or stressed the repeat. For us, the expectations are the same every year. Other teams may will build it up, like there’s a bullseye on us, but we don’t care about that at all. We stick to what we do, and it’s worked for us.”
“Not really,” Parker said when asked if this year’s tournament expectations felt different. “We came out with the same mentality through the season, do the best we can, play to our level, play our game. Sure, there might be that target or expectation to win, but we haven’t taken it to heart. We just play our game, do what we do and focus on what we need to do.”
The last team to defeat Miami East in the postseason before the regional level? Anna in 2010’s sectional final.
The Vikings made sure from the start there was no repeat of that performance.
The Vikings and Rockets played side-out volleyball for most of the first set until East led 8-7. Hellyer served the Vikings out to a 13-7 lead, then a three-point service run by senior Anna Jacomet made the score 19-12. With East up 21-14, two kills and a block by Hellyer helped put the set away.
The second set was much the same, with a three-point service run by Kaitlyn Mack, including a pair of aces, staking East out to a 13-6 lead midway through. Anna couldn’t string together more than two straight points until the score was 23-12, but it was still too late.
In the third, Anna took its first lead of the entire match to start and built an 8-5 advantage — but a kill and then four straight aces by Parker, followed by a kill by Hellyer, gave the Vikings an 11-8 lead, and they didn’t look back from there.
“When your season’s on the line, you’re bound to come out a little harder, and I think they (Anna) did that (in the third),” Peterson said. “It took us a second to pull ourselves together after we took care of business in the first two. But credit to them — that’s why they’re here.”
Parker led the Vikings with 21 kills, 16 assists, five aces, four dig and three blocks and Hellyer had 15 kills, 16 assists, an ace, four digs and two blocks. Sierra Kinnison added three kills, Lydia Conley had two kills and three blocks, Sophie Jacomet had a kill, two assists, an ace, five digs and a block, Delaney Bourelle had a kill and a block, Mack had three aces and nine digs, Gabrielle Hawkins had an assist and nine digs and Anna Jacomet had an ace.
“I give a lot of credit to our scout team this week,” Peterson said. “Macie Schaffner and Ashlyn Monnin, both of those girls made life miserable for us on scout team. It’s a good thing when you come out here and execute it, because then you know that those girls that didn’t play in the match had a hand in it.”
And now the Vikings will face Versailles at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trent Arena for the right to go back to the state tournament.
“It’s like a yearly tradition at this point,” Peterson said. “It’s a tradition we love. We’ve had our wins and they’ve had their wins. There’s no better way to end this regional than with that matchup.”
With a chance to make one more memory.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.