DAYTON — You can’t keep a good team down.
The Highland Fighting Scots were on the verge of elimination in their first ever appearance at the state semifinals in Dayton. But, point after point, they hung around as long as they could, before finally giving in, 19-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-22, to Tuscarawas Valley.
“I was really proud of how they played in the end,” coach Rob Terrill said. “We couldn’t quite get enough to finish. We fought all the way through.”
Highland’s first appearance at the state final four lasted just one day, but it was a memorable one. The Nutter Center was packed with fans, as a large contingent of Highland students filled one side of the arena.
The 2016 Scots finish their season 27-2. The senior class totaled 102 victories — more than any other class.
After trailing two sets to one, the Scots fell behind, 2315. There appeared no hope for the Scots. Except, no one told them.
Highland went on a 7-1 run with Raina Terry landing a huge spike and Ashton Terrill getting back-to-back kills and a block. Tuscarawas Valley had to use both timeouts during the run in an attempt to get match point.
Finally, it happened when a Highland serve hit the net. And it was over.
Ashton Terrill landed 16 kills and had a team-high 29 digs in her final match in Highland blue. She and Raina Terry (18 kills, .106 hitting percentage) dominated early on the outside.
“We got away from running a quicker tempo offense, and we slowed down to match them a little bit,” coach Terrill said. “We tried to speed the game up towards the end, and that’s a dangerous fine line, because then you run the risk of making more errors. We’ve been lucky to this point that we haven’t done that. We’ve been efficient running up tempo.”
The Scots appeared to lose strength as the match wore on, while the Trojans got stronger and faster. Tuscarawas Valley (27-1) played back-and-forth with Highland in the second set. The Scots led, 22-21, but kills from Kierrah Stewart and Kayla Hall put the Trojans ahead. Highland hung on after a long point ended with a kill by Gena West, but the Trojans landed the final point of the set.
The third set also began with the two teams evenly matched. With Parker Steck serving, Highland went on an 8-1 run to take a 21-17 lead. Later, kills from Terrill and West gave them a 23-20 lead. But Tuscarawas Valley ended the set with a 6-1 run.
After the first set, the Scots attack percentage was .194. By the third set, it was down to .083.
“I felt like, some of the time, we were fighting ourselves,” coach Terrill said. “We made too many mistakes and let them back into the ballgame.”
The Nutter Center, which seats around 10,000, is by far the largest venue Highland had played in all year. The Scots arrived early on Friday to watch one of the earlier semifinal matches, to get the feel of the arena, before getting ready for their own match.
The result was just what coach Terrill had hoped.
The Scots came out firing, with separate kills by Steck, Terry, Krista Walters and Ashton Terrill to take a 7-2 lead. The Trojans came back to tie the set twice, but never took the lead. Highland won the set on a 7-1 run led by a pair of aces by Krista Walters.
“The lights may have been brighter, but I’m excited about how they reacted,” coach Terrill said. “They’ve played so hard together all year. That’s why we’re here.”
NOTES: This year’s volleyball team is the first Highland girls team of any sport to reach the state level. … Kelsey Walters finished with four kills. Taylor Belcher had three kills. Steck and West each had two. … Bridget Oder finished with 24 digs. … Terry Krista Walters led the Scots with three block assists each.