By Rob Kiser
KETTERING — Whether you are fan of Versailles or Miami East volleyball or just a volleyball fan in general, you walked out of Trent Arena Saturday realizing you had just watched a state championship-caliber match.
And that is exactly what it took for Versailles to stun the defending state champions in the Division III regional final, 25-23, 23-25, 27-25, 18-25, 15-11.
“It was definitely a high-level of volleyball,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said. “There is no question about that.”
And while Miami East seniors leave a legacy that is hard to match, Versailles six seniors get a chance to make one of their own at next week’s state tournament.
Versailles (23-6) will play at Tuscarawas Valley — which Miami East defeated in last year’s state title match — at 2 p.m. Friday at the Nutter Center in the state semifinals, which will be preceded by Coldwater and Independence at noon. Miami East closes at 24-5.
The winners will play in the state championship match at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“I just wanted to get to state so bad,” Versailles 6-foot-1 middle Danielle Winner said. “This is so exciting.”
And it was no surprise it took five sets to decide the winner with two teams of that caliber.
“There is no question about it,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “Both teams played at a very high level.”
And in the race to 15 in the fifth set, Versailles got off to a quick start and never trailed.
It was close in the early going as a Jonni Parker kill pulled East within 5-4, but Danielle Winner had a kill for side-out and then served an ace to make it 7-4.
Mallory Marshal had two kills for side-outs and Cassie Peters served two points, including an ace to make it 11-7, forcing Miami East to use its last timeout.
“It is tough when you get down in the fifth set,” Peterson said. “We thought we had weathered the storm early in the set.”
A kill by Elizabeth Ording gave Versailles a 12-8 lead, but East wasn’t going down without a fight. Kyndall Hellyer had a tip for side-out and Parker had a kill on Hellyer’s serve to make it 12-10.
Danielle Winner had been calling for the ball the whole set, and the big moments were no different.
“I was telling Ellen (Peters) to get her the ball,” Bruggeman said.
Versailles did exactly that, and consecutive kills by Danielle Winner made it 14-10 and gave Versailles four match points.
Winner stomped the floor after each kill nearly hard enough to make it shake.
“I really wanted to go to state,” she said. “You have to play with emotion. You can’t play volleyball if you don’t play with emotion.”
After a Versailles serve sailed long to make it 14-11, both teams had digs to keep the ball alive on the next point.
Sophomore outside Raegan Shaffer knew the ball was coming her way.
“I just knew I was going to win the match,” she said. “I had to do it.”
Shaffer went straight down the line and East couldn’t save it, ending one of the better regional championship matches you will see.
“We have six seniors,” Shaffer said. “That was what I was thinking (as the match ended). This was for them.”
That set off a wild celebration on the Versailles side, while East’s amazing run was brought to a stunning end.
“That is one of the things we talked about,” Peterson said. “These girls have set the tone for the next group, just like the group before them did for them. They went to regionals all four years. They went to state twice, they won a state title. They have had an amazing run.”
There was an indication of what kind of match it was going to be from the start.
Versailles led much of the first set, but East rallied to within 23-22.
Danielle Winner had a kill to make it 24-22 and on Kate Stammen’s serve, two amazing digs by Stammen and Kami McEldowney allowed Winner to finish it with another kill.
“I think that was big for us to come out and win the first set,” Winner said.
Behind the serving of Sophie Jacomet and hitting and blocking of Parker, East jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the second set.
Two aces by McEldowney brought Versailles within 21-20, but East was able to finish it with a Parker kill at 24-23 to even the match.
There was a feeling the third set was going to be pivotal — and that ended up being the case.
With it tied at 22, McEldowney had two more points — on the second, she kept the ball alive with another dig that prevented a Miami East kill and Ording spotted a wide-open back row on the East side and put the ball there to make it 23-21.
A kill and ace by Hellyer and block by Parker on Hellyer’s serve made it 24-23 East.
But Winner had two kills for sideouts to tie it at 25 and Caitlin McEldowney served two points, with a block by Winner putting Versailles up two sets to one with a 27-25 win.
“That was huge getting that third set,” Bruggeman said.
Once again, Miami East came out firing.
Hellyer served the first six points of the fourth set — with two aces, two kills by Parker and a block by Lydia Conley.
East rode that start to a 25-18 win, but Versailles would not be denied in the pivotal fifth set.
“It is just amazing,” Winner said. “To know we are going to state and beat the defending champs.”
For Miami East, Parker led the way with 35 kills, 25 assists, two aces, 10 digs and three blocks, Hellyer had 17 kills, 30 assists, four aces, 16 digs and a block, Sierra Kinnison had seven kills, a dig and two blocks, Delaney Bourelle had five kills and three digs and Conley had four kills, two digs and two blocks. Sophie Jacomet added three assists, two aces, nine digs and a block, Kaitlyn Mack had five digs, Gabrielle Hawkins had an assist, an ace and 23 digs and Anna Jacomet had a dig.
Danielle Winner led a balanced Versailles attack with 24 kills and two blocks. Ording had 12 kills and Lindsey Winner added six kills and a block. Marshal and Shaffer added five kills each. Ellen Peters dished out 45 assists, while Kami McEldowney had four aces to go with her spectacular defense.
“It is incredible,” Bruggeman said. “It is just so exciting to be playing volleyball for another week.”
With a chance to make a legacy of their own.