HEATH — The Highland Scots volleyball team is back in the Final Four for the first time in three seasons. With hitter Raina Terry (17 kills) and setter Ashlynn Belcher (28 assists) leading the way, the Scots knocked off the Dover Tornados in the regional final on Saturday, 25-17, 25-13, 25-21, at Heath High School. The sweep, puts the Scots into next Thursday’s OHSAA Division II State Semifinal, where they will face off against Parma Heights Holy Name High School at 4 p.m. at Wright State University.
The Scots (24-4) knew going in that Dover (24-3) had been to the regionals before, so it was no surprise that every point would be hotly contested. Highland was hanging on to an 18-15 lead in the first set. With Highland senior Darcie Walters serving, the Scots surged ahead 23-15. Highland got scores from Terry, along with Makenna and Ashlynn Belcher. Then, Dover made a couple of unforced errors.
“We worked tremendously hard for this,” Walters said. “Every day, at practice, we give it our all. This year we got out of our heads, overcame our errors and adopted a good mindset and we definitely brought a good mindset into this game. We just played with our hearts and knew that we could do it.”
In the second set, there was little doubt from the outset. With Makenna Belcher (six kills) serving, Terry scored twice, including one off a set from Ashlynn Belcher.
Then, Ashlynn Belcher and Walters took brief turns serving. When they were done, Highland was winning the second set, 7-2.
“We really just needed to keep up our energy,” Ashlynn Belcher said. “As a team, I feel like we do better, when we are pumped up or hype each other up. We just have to work hard every day, because each game brings a new challenge.”
Later, in the second set, the Scots were winning, 17-11, and it was Walters’ turn to serve again. Three more scores from Terry, including one after a tremendous rally, and Highland had increased their Set Two lead to 22-11. The Scots finished out the set with scores from Terry and from each of the Belchers, taking a two sets to none lead.
In the third set, Dover fought back. Dover’s Reese Palmatier scored, closing the Scots’ lead to 5-4. With Dover’s Morgan Kiser and Kaitlyn Frautschy, serving, Kiser, Palmatier and Frautschy all scored, giving the Tornados the lead, 9-6.
The Scots came back, getting a score from Terry and another on a big block by teammate Abby Eusey, which put Highland ahead, 15-13. The Scots raised that margin to 19-14 on another Terry score, followed by a score and an ace from Kendall Stover (eight kills).
With Highland winning, 22-16, and looking to wrap up the third set, Grace Wallace scored twice for the Tornados. Kiser added another to put the pressure on the Scots, who were holding on to a 23-21 lead. Finally, the Scots broke the Tornados serve and completed the sweep.
“(Dover) really put up a fight, but we prepared really well,” Terry said. “We wanted to get to state so badly. We managed to play at our highest level. We have a saying: ‘We hold the rope.’ It’s just a metaphor for, no matter what, we just hold on and we pull each other through everything.”
Thursday will mark the Scots’ first state semifinal appearance, since they lost to Tuscarawas Valley, three sets to one, in 2016. In the past, two seasons, the Scots dropped the district final — once to Granville and then, last season, to Jonathan Alder.
Parma Heights Holy Name defeated Jonathan Alder, in their regional final to get to this year’s state semifinal.
“We’re a good mix of youth and experience,” said Highland coach Rob Terrill. “We have three sophomores in the line up with a couple of juniors and our five seniors have been tremendous. That keeps us ready to play. They don’t get too rattled.”
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