By Gary R. Rasberry
VANDALIA -- With four teams in the top five playing for one slot for the state final four, everyone knew that the Division IV Vandalia Regional would be intense.
A packed crowd at the Student Activity Center got to see a gem of a nightcap as St. Henry, the top team in the state coaches poll, had to fend off Jackson Center before winning the regional semifinal three games to one, 25-21, 25-19, 22-25, 25-14.
That sets up a regional final on Saturday against fifth-ranked Lehman. The Cavaliers (24-2) defeated second-ranked Fairlawn (25-2) in three straight games to advance to the finals. The Redskins will look to avenge an earlier season loss to Lehman at St. Henry.
The match is slated for 4 p.m., but Redskin fans are hoping the OHSAA moves the game earlier to allow fans to make it for the kickoff of the football playoff game at Marion Pleasant, which is about 21/2 hours away from Vandalia.
"We're hoping to change one of (the start times)," said St. Henry coach Lori Schwieterman. "We're calling (OHSAA Assistant Commissioner) Debbie Moore in the morning." Although the Redskins (24-3) got the win, it wasn't without big comebacks from the Tigers (24-3).
Most notable was in the first game, where St. Henry was up 23-12 and looking ready to close things out, only to have Jackson Center get the sideout and a point.
Cara Metz, the top player this season in the Shelby County League, came up with a string of serves that came up jackpot for her team. A pair of aces were blended in with kills from Catie Halberstadt, resulting in eight straight service points to move the score to 23-20. Schwieterman used both of her timeouts in the run before Betsy Hoying spiked the ball down for a point to force game point.
Even with game point, the Redskins still had trouble as Halberstadt tallied a kill to make it 24-21. But on the next serve, Halberstadt went under the net to give St. Henry the first game, 25-21.
St. Henry had a bit easier time in Game 2, breaking away with several short runs that put together a 25-19 victory and put Jackson Center on the brink of elimination.
The Tigers refused to go away quietly, finally tying the Redskins 1-1 at the start of Game 3, the first tie of the match. St. Henry continued to get the lead back on subsequent ties until 4-4, when the Tigers took their first lead of the match with a kill by Halberstadt. The Redskins regained the lead and put it out to 13-10 before Jackson Center began to come back. With the score 18-11, Kristi Platfoot chose a quick-set over rather than setting the spike and the ball hit the floor to give the Tigers a 19-18 lead. St. Henry tied it up several times the rest of the way but an ace by Metz and a kill by Halberstadt earned the 25-22 win for Jackson Center.
"I thought we had good intensity," said Schwieterman about the first two games. "We came out in control and we did an awesome job of taking care of all the aspects on the court. When they started throwing a little bit of junk at us, that threw us off a little bit.
"I thought (Jackson Center) did a good job (in the third game) of moving the ball and tipping the ball," added Schwieterman.
Things started out neck-and-neck for Game 4 with the teams tying all the way up to 11-all before Maria Wuebker stepped up to serve. A kill by Lindsay Puthoff and a stuff-block by Lindsey Thobe made it 13-11. Two straight miscues by the Tigers made it 15-11 before the Tigers got the ball again, but the first serve by Renee Platfoot was long, giving the Redskins the ball back.
Lanee Mikesell had an ace to go with two Tiger miscues and a Puthoff kill to make it 20-12. Jackson Center mustered just three more points before the Redskins put the game away with a Betsy Hoying kill to end the match at 25-15.
"I told them we had to get back the momentum," said Schwieterman about what she said to the before Game 4. "Volleyball is such a game of momentum. We had to capture the momentum. We had to start on top. I thought the girls did a great job of fighting and putting them away."
Halberstadt came up big for her Tiger team. The junior hitter had 19 kills on the night, almost single-handedly keeping the Tigers in the match. Kristi Platfoot added 11 kills with seven coming in Game 3.
"Those two are key players for them," said Schwieterman about the Tiger pair. "They're going to get their kills. I thought Kylie (libero Kylie Elking) did an awesome job of getting there on some of Halberstadt's kills. She made some nice passes for us."
St. Henry had plenty of balance from its hitters. Hoying led the way with 10 kills, but Kayla Lefeld added nine, Cami Lefeld added seven and Puthoff finished with six.