By Gary R. Rasberry
FINDLAY -- In the closing moments of the Division III regional volleyball final on Saturday, the Parkway student section changed their familiar call-and-answer chant at the end of matches.
Instead of "I (echo).... I believe (echo).... I believe that we will win (echo)," it ended, "I believe we're going to state."
The Panthers, 10-12 as the postseason began, will keep on playing in the final week of the volleyball season after dispatching Castalia Margaretta in four games at Liberty-Benton High School on Saturday afternoon.
Parkway won the opener 25-23 before the Polar Bears took game two, 25-16. The Panthers came back to win the third game 25-23 before using an explosive offensive attack to take the deciding game, 25-18.
Parkway (16-12) will play in its first state semifinal since 1998 on Friday afternoon in the fourth match of the day against Williamsport Westfall at the Nutter Center at Wright State University. Westfall (23-3) defeated Coshocton in five games to make the final four. Todd Henkle, who coached the Panthers to state titles in 1997 and 1998, was overcome with joy.
"Our record was a little bit iffy coming in, but I had 100 percent confidence in them," said Henkle. "We've been on a big roll since sectional started. They're the ones that got it done -- the six seniors, the juniors. I'm just so proud of them.
"It's awesome. We've been here three years in a row. We get to the finals, put it away in four. What more can you ask for?," continued Henkle.
In the first game, it was back-and-forth between the two teams, before Parkway got a break when Victoria Kurt's serve went out to make it 23-22. Roehm scored a kill to get to game point, but Tory Henkle's serve for the win went out. Roehm helped her squad out by getting the final two kills for the Panthers' win.
It appeared the match would be a battle of hits between Roehm, who finished with 22 kills, and Margaretta's All-Ohio selection Michele Kuns. Kuns, whose south-paw hitting helped Margaretta beat Parkway two years ago in the regional semis, had 15 kills, but only two in game four.
In game two, Margaretta broke away from a 10-all tie on the serving of Brittany Nesbitt. Nesbitt had two aces, Kuns had two kills and Jessica Meyer added a kill to put Margaretta up 15-10. Parkway got to within two points at 16-14, but Lexi Lynn served up four more points to put the game away.
Game three was a near carbon-copy of game one. This time, Parkway had a 22-19 lead, only to have the Bears tie things up at 22 and 23-all. This time, though, Kuns knocked a spike out to make it 24-23 in favor of Parkway and Meyer's spike attempt went long for the Panthers' win.
In game four, things started going south for Margaretta at the 7-all point of the match. Roehm and Laura Art put the Panthers up 9-7 before Amber Kuns cut it to one at 9-8.
At that point, Margaretta lost its aim on the kills, committing three straight hitting errors to put Parkway up 12-8. Margaretta got as close as 13-12 before a Michele Kuns hitting error gave Parkway -- and Roehm -- the serve. Roehm served up two straight aces to make it 16-12. Two straight hitting errors by the Polar Bears made it 18-12 and forced coach Sara Warner to call timeout.
Nesbitt got a stuff to get a point back and allowed her to serve, but the play of the day sent the momentum back to Parkway.
To save a ball going to the floor, Tory Henkle got her flattened hand under the ball to keep it alive -- a move called a pancake. Roehm dug the ball back deep to the Margaretta side. Assuming it would go out, Margaretta did not chase the ball, but the ball landed inbounds, sending the Panthers into a frenzy and giving Parkway all the momentum it would need.
The Polar Bears got as close as 21-18, before the Panthers rattled off the final four points. Art had a kill, followed by two more Margaretta hitting mistakes. Appropriately, it was Roehm who pounded the ball down for the final point to send the Panthers to state.
"We used our heads the last game," said coach Henkle. "We let them hit some balls out. We played balls we had to. (The pancake and dig) just killed their momentum.
"We've really been trying to crank it up the last four weeks. That was definitely displayed here today."
Now the Panthers head to the Nutter Center for the state tournament. The last time they went, the seniors were in elementary school.
"It's awesome," said Roehm. "We're all excited."
For Tory Henkle, getting a chance to play for her dad in the state final four is a great feeling.
"It's a dream come true," said Tory, who shares setter chores with Erika Snyder. "We've talked about it ever since the last time. Now it's happening. It's awesome."