By Ryan Hines
LIMA -- Instead of what should have been a celebration for reaching the Division II district finals, it was a somber and humbling night for the Celina volleyball team.
Celina looked to have a fairly easy route to Liberty-Benton for the district finals, with a sectional site loaded with teams that the Bulldogs have already beaten up on this season in Western Buckeye League play.
After three-game wins over Kenton and St. Marys, Celina stumbled against Van Wert in the district semfinals on Thursday as the Cougars defeated the Bulldogs, 25-18, 25-23, 16-25 and 26-24.
"Any time that you can beat a program like Celina, it's a major accomplishment, but to do it in the tournament, it makes it extra special," said Van Wert head coach Julie Krites. "We had to be on top of our game for the whole night to come away with a win tonight and we did that. This is just an amazing win because we've worked so hard through all of the frustration."
"We came out flat and they (Van Wert) challenged us and we decided not to accept the challenge," said Celina head coach Nikki Etzler. "We did some good things at times, but we could never sustain them. Van Wert played with a lot of heart tonight and heart will beat talent all the time. They played well and were the better team tonight." Celina fans appeared shocked following the loss to Van Wert after watching the Bulldogs defeat the Cougars easily in the regular season.
"We got beat pretty bad by them earlier in the season," admitted Krites. "We lost the first game and then we lost the last two games really bad, but our girls were ready to play tonight."
"Van Wert has beaten some good teams this year, but it looked like a good matchup for us going into it," said Etzler. "We didn't do what we needed to do to win and they did, it's as simple as that. We have to play to win and we didn't do that tonight."
The frustrations mounted throughout the first and second games as Van Wert took a 2-0 advantage against an uninspired Bulldogs squad.
Celina appeared ready to rise to the occasion with their play in game three as the Bulldogs took control early and rolled to the nine-point win.
The happy faces on the Bulldog players were short-lived, though, as Celina's struggles came back in game four.
Celina appeared to have momentum on its side late, with a 24-22 lead with game-point on the line.
Van Wert's Ally Clifton brought the Cougars back to a tie with back-to-back kills knotting the game at 24-24. A lift error by Celina's Allison Knapke, her fourth of the night, gave the Cougars a one-point advantage at 25-24 before Clifton was able to end the match with another outstanding play.
Celina set Lindsay Scheer at the net to try and tie the game at 25-25, but Clifton rose above the net to block it and watched it land on the Celina side of the court sending the Cougars faithful into a frenzied celebration.
"We felt that we had to win game four, because I could start to see our girls getting a little tired," said Krites.
Clifton dominated the play at the net for the entire evening outdueling the Celina combination of Betsy Hone, Liz Homan, Scheer and Kylie Dorsten.
Clifton led all players with 25 kills and countless touches on Celina spike attempts.
"Ally comes ready to play each night and the things that she can do on a court are amazing," said Krites. "She knows how to put the ball on the floor whether it's by hitting it hard or by tipping it. When she's on, she gives the rest of our team so much confidence and we saw that tonight."
"She (Clifton) came out to win the game and she played like it," said Etzler.
Hone led Celina with 22 kills while Homan added 12 kills.
Van Wert (15-9) moves on to district finals action at Liberty-Benton on Saturday at 2 p.m. to take on Ottawa-Glandorf, which defeated WBL-champion Defiance on Thursday night.