By Rob Kiser
FAIRBORN — Winning a Division III state volleyball championship…amazing.
Defending that crown the next year to go back-to-back…incredible.
Having the final two kills to end the state championship match…priceless.
And that’s the dream Versailles senior rightside hitter Liz Ording lived Saturday at the Nutter Center in Versailles 25-23,25-23, 25-19 win over Indepedence as the Lady Tigers finished the season 20-10 and Independence closed at 24-4.
With Versailles leading 23-19, Ording took a set from senior Kelsey Custenborder and pounded it for a kill. At match point, on senior Alexa Didier’s serve, it was again the Custenborder to Ording connection to end the match.
“You couldn’t have a better ending than that — senior to senior,” Ording said with a big smile in the interview room afterwards. “That was incredible.”
And it completed an amazing turnaround for the Tigers, who at one point were 10-10 and finished sixth in the Midweast Athletic Conference standings before winning their final 10 matches.
And Ording had no trouble pointing out the turning point.
In the final regular season match of the year, the Tigers defeated state-ranked Fort Recovery.
“It was Senior Night,” Ording said. “I think we all kind of looked at each other after that match and said ‘It is a new season. We are 0-0. This is a fresh start. Let’s do this’.”
And, for the second time in three matches, Versailles had to overcome a significant injury and did it without batting an eye.
Outside hitter Raegan Shaffer went down with a knee injury on what would have been a kill by her in the first set. Instead it was a net foul and Versailles’ lead was 18-15 instead of 19-14.
And it was Emma George, who normally plays middle and had missed the state semifinal with an ankle injury, who was sent in to play for Shaffer.
“Raegan (Shaffer) and I are best friends,” George said. “We are really close. I was thinking ‘Oh, no, what we are we going to do without Raegan and coach (Kenzie Bruggeman) said Emma, you are in. And I was thinking, I don’t want to go in for Raegan (Shaffer). I normally play middle, so I was a little nervous.”
Bruggeman was not.
“I have said all along, it takes all 15 girls,” Bruggeman said. “It was just like when Emma (George) went down in the regional finals. But, we have worked on those situations in practice. Brooke (Stonebraker) and Emma (George) are kind of interchangeable between outside and middle. They have played both spots in practice.”
And Lindsey Winner, who had another big match, looked at it as next girl up.
“We have some many great athletes on this team,” she said.
And another common theme was repeated in the first two sets.
Going back to the regional finals, every time the Tigers have been in a close set, they have finished off the wins.
Against Marion Pleasant, it was wins of 30-28 and 27-25 to finish off the match.
On Saturday, Versailles had a 23-22 lead in the first set and was tied at 23 in the second set — and finished off both sets.
“We work on it every day in practice,” Bruggeman said. “We say we are down 23-20, what do we need to do? And then OK, we are up 23-20, what do we need to do?”
And as she did all match, Winner had the answers.
On Ording’s serve, Winner took a set from Custenborder and found the floor for a 24-22 Versailles lead.
“Number 25 (Lindsey Winner) hit the ball a lot tonight,” Independence coach Tony Messina said. “And it found the floor a lot when she hit it.”
After a Grace Smotek kill got the Blue Devils within 24-23, Winner had a big block that Independence couldn’t handle to give Versailles the first set.
“It is one of the things we work on all the time in practice,” Winner said about finishing sets.
The second set had just as dramatic a finish — and this time it was Stonebraker taking center state.
With the set tied at 23, Stonebraker took a set from Custenborder and pounded it to the floor.
And on the set point on Custenborder’s serve, She combined with Ording for a block to give Versailles a two-set lead.
“On the first point, Kelsey (Custenborder) said the ball is coming your way,” Stonebraker said. “It felt great to get those two points.”
Stonebraker, who stepped in for the injured George in the semifinals and remained in the lineup Saturday, had six kills on 10 attacks with no errors for a .600 attack percentage.
“Brooke (Stonebraker) was just amazing,” Bruggeman said. “She had so many big kills today. But again, I go back to our practices. That is what allows us to play like this.”
Abby Stammen served three straight points — starting with net serve that fell just on Independence’s side as Versailles opened a 19-12 lead in the third set and set up the big finish by Ording.
“Abby (Stammen) has been so good,” Bruggeman said. “She has really improved her back row defense and when she gets in the front row, she makes plays.”
Winner led the Tiger offense with 15 kills and four blocks, three of them solo and added nine digs.
Ording added 1o kills and one assist block, to go with Stonebraker’s six kills and two assist blocks.
Custenborder had three kills, two assist blocks and dished out 31 assists and had eight digs.
George finished with two kills on five attempts and Shaffer and Rebecca Knapke both had one. Shaffer also had a solo block.
Caitlin McEldowney led the defense with 12 digs, while Alex Didier had nine and Knapke and Stammen both had five.
Ording had four and George had one.
“I felt like they all played well,” Bruggeman said. “It felt like a really intense match. Independence had some amazing digs on balls I thought were on the ground. It seemed like a long match. I would think the score had to be around 18 and would look up and it would still be under 10. That team is a really good team and I can’t believe we won in three sets.”
Smotek led Independence with 14 kills. Abby Avila dished out 19 assists, while Katie May added 12 to go with 11 digs. Maddy Bilinovic led the defense with 17 kills.
“Versailles is a great team,” Messina said. “I felt like it was the first time the other time had put more pressure on us than we put on them since we went to Casstown (Miami East’s Casstown Clash tournament). You can’t coach height, but Henry Clay (Kentucky) in the Casstown tournament had a lot of height. We learned from that. I don’t think it was our best match, but give Versailles all the credit.”
Bruggmam has now just lost just one postseason match in three years and has coached the Tigers to back-to-back state titles.
Which is amazing, incredible…maybe even priceless.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.