By Josh Brown
KETTERING — On match point of Miami East’s regional semifinal sweep of Anna Wednesday, sophomore Kyndall Hellyer may have been overexcited when she got the serve, hitting the ball three feet long — though the Vikings wrapped up the win on the next point.
In Game 4 of Saturday’s regional final, that excitement gave way to nerves in a much higher-pressure situation — which played right into Hellyer’s hands.
“The nerves actually help me,” she said. “Leading up to this game, we knew it’d be a more challenging match from the beginning. I just knew I had to step up and hit the ball in, and that’s exactly what I did.”
With Miami East trailing 24-23 but holding a 2-1 overall edge, Hellyer tied the score as a Newark Catholic player was caught in the net, then she served one of her five aces on the night to give the Vikings match point and hit a serve that the Green Wave failed to return in three hits, wrapping up the set and the match as Miami East won 20-25, 25-15, 25-20, 26-24 in the Division III regional title game Saturday at Trent Arena to send the Vikings back to the state tournament for the first time since 2012.
“It’s very different, being in the stands than on the court,” said fellow sophomore Jonni Parker, who also watched the Vikings win back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012. “I watched them thinking ‘that’s going to be me one day.’ Now that we’ve done it and are going to state, I don’t think there’s a better feeling. This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt.”
“Watching those state teams, seeing the looks on their faces, the emotions, I knew I really wanted to get there,” Hellyer said. “I wanted that feeling. And now, I’m feeling very comparable to what they must have been. I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
For senior libero Lindsey Black — who was a freshman during those state seasons before the Vikings lost in the regional semifinal the past two seasons — it was even more of a dream come true.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get to play on a state team. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “We had so much pressure on us and it’s been rough, but my team, we’re all so close and we did it. This feels just crazy.”
Black and the Viking defense had the unenviable task of slowing down Newark Catholic’s (25-2) primary hitter Taylor Daignault. With the Wave going back to her again and again — and sometimes again — on the same play after the defense made tough saves, it could have worn down East. But Black and company never backed down.
“Their big hitter, we were all worried about her,” Black said. “But our blockers put her on the line so I could get there and get the balls up.”
“Lindsey played her butt off,” Miami East coach Brian Bensman said. “She’s very underrated, not flashy, but she does the job very well. And today she and everyone else played outstanding. The girls all contributed today. Everyone had to.
“We’re young, but we’ve got four seniors (Black, Emma Monnin, Kati Runner, Karson Mahaney) that all play a role. Karson’s hurt right now, but she’s still on the bench cheering on everyone else. They all take their role seriously. They don’t get a lot of credit, but they’ve been there and they know what it takes.”
Saturday, it took some recovering.
Daignault — who led the Wave with 19 kills, two blocks and an ace — had five kills in the opening set and Samantha Bashum added four more kills. After the score was tied at 11-11, Daignault put down three straight kills to give Newark Catholic control, and though the Vikings fought to keep it close, the Wave closed out the set 25-20 to take an early lead.
The Vikings came storming back, though, with Parker ripping off seven kills and Hellyer and Reagan Morrett adding two apiece in Game 2. Carly Gump also had a key service run, hitting back-to-back aces that widened the gap to 16-7 East, and a tip-kill by Parker closed out the set and evened the match.
“In the first game, we were making some errors and not doing the little things. We were just going through the motions,” Parker said. “We relaxed, pulled together more as a team and got it done. We knew we just had to do the little things right and keep the ball in bounds.”
With the Vikings trailing 11-10 in Game 3, Parker put down a vicious kill to give the serve to teammate Jillian Wesco. Parker then blocked a short return, put down another kill and Wesco notched an ace to give East a 14-11 edge. And with the score 21-17, Hellyer hit three straight aces to put the game out of reach — and put a trip to state within the Vikings’ grasp.
Newark Catholic was far from done, though, and Game 4 was a brutal back-and-forth battle in which neither team could score more than two points in a row. Finally, the Wave scored three straight, with Daignault putting down a kill to give Newark Catholic a 19-17 lead and force the Vikings to call a timeout.
“The girls needed a break — and I needed a break,” Benson said. “I just told them to believe in themselves and trust in their teammates, like we’ve been saying all year.”
The Vikings began edging closer, trailing only 23-22 until a block by Mary Brigid Keck gave match point to the Wave. But the Vikings forced an error, giving the serve — and a mountain of nerves — to Hellyer.
“Nerves always make me play better,” Hellyer said.
A Newark error, an ace and an unreturnable serve later, the Vikings were celebrating.
“In the end, we just wanted it more,” Parker said.
Parker finished with a match-high 25 kills, two blocks, 17 assists, eight digs and an ace, while Hellyer added 18 kills, 15 digs, five aces and three blocks. Black had a team-high 24 digs, Wesco added 18 digs and Taylor McCuiston had 14 digs, Gump had 27 assists, Emma Monnin had four kills and Kati Runner had two kills and four digs.
The Vikings advance to the state semifinal round at 2 p.m. Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.