By Skip Weaver
KETTERING – A celebration ensued on the floor of Trent Arena on Saturday afternoon seconds after Versailles senior Liz Ording aced her serve against Marion Pleasant to win the Tigers second straight Division III regional championship.
Versailles (18-10) had to rally after losing the first set to the Spartans, who were up to the task of taking on the defending state champions, and the Tigers did just that by winning the last three sets for an 18-25, 25-17, 30-28, 27-25 regional title.
Versailles will play Tuscarawas Valley — the same team they played in last year’s state semifinal — at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Nutter Center.
“Regional champions sounds awesome. I love the sound of it,” Ording said. “It feels awesome to have another week of this.”
Ording, a fourth-year varsity player, said she wasn’t worried after losing that first set. And even after they trailed in the third and fourth sets, Ording said those are the situations they train for.
“I think we strive for that kind of competition,” Ording said. “We’ve been preparing and we do those situations in practice every day. Before we left practice (Friday) we knew we are prepared for those types of situations and we sure did go through them tonight.”
As dominant as Marion Pleasant was in its first set win, the Tigers looked to be back on their own track in winning the second set to tie the match at 1-1. That made the third set a critical one for each team as the the winner would have a decided advantage and the third set could not have been more closely contested. It was back and forth every other point or two for much of the match until Marion Pleasant was able to build a 6-point lead at 15-9, but the Tigers came roaring back to tie the match 24-24 forcing extra play. The Spartans went up twice only to have Versailles tie it again. Then Versailles got a 27-26 lead but Marion Pleasant tied it also. Finally, at 28-28 Versailles broke the tie and won the set 30-28 on a Raegen Shaffer kill.
“It’s ironic because it is what we talk about in practice all the time,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said of the back-and-forth third set. “When you get to that point in a game when you both are in the 20s and when it is back and forth like that it just comes down to heart and it comes down to who is going to focus in on the fundamentals. I can’t say that Marion Pleasant had less heart at that point, but that is just what it comes down to.”
In the fourth set, it was again Marion Pleasant jumping out early determined to force a fifth set, but the Tigers rallied again to tie the match at 10-10 on a kill by Abby Stammen that looked more a dunk than a kill. But the beat continued on for the Spartans who rolled out to a 20-16 lead and a Versailles time out. That’s when Ording took control and led her team back to the brink of winning at 24-21. Marion Pleasant did give up however running off four straight points to gain a 25-24 advantage, but a kill by Ording made it 25-25. Ording stepped to the service line and got a 26-25 advantage before she iced the regional title with an ace.
“This is amazing. It is honestly a dream come true,” said senior setter Kelsey Custenboder. “I just knew at the beginning of the season we had goals and we became so close throughout the season this team and just to be able to go to state with these girls means the absolute world to me. It was so tough but we have been working so hard on our mental toughness and situations at practice so I knew we were going to be able to pull this out. Losing that first set didn’t bother us because we knew we had each others backs and we were going to do it for each other. Regional champions sounds amazing. Two in a row is so amazing.”
Coach Bruggeman agreed.
“Regional champs. I love it,” she said. “I think each year means so much and it means something different. I can’t say that it is means more, it just means something different with these girls. The seniors all had their eyes set on this and getting back to state. Multiple times throughout the game they kept relying on that and just looking to each saying we got this and we have to get back there. Let’s dial it back in and don’t give up hope because we could have. I mean we dropped that first set and we were down in games with them at 24 and us only at 21. There were so many times that they could give up but they really relied on their training not only physical but mental.
“I can’t speak enough for the support from our community coming down here,” Bruggeman continued. “There were so many things going on today and to have all them here and to look out and see all the black and orange it’s so fun and we love having that support. The girls feed off that. We are thrilled that we get another week to try and get one percent better. I just love these girls so much and I am so glad that it is not over and I get to see their face on Monday.”