FAIRBORN — Inches. The Highland volleyball team was virtually inches away from winning its first state championship.
The Scots battled Middletown Bishop Fenwick for four sets before falling 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-22 in the Division II state championship match Saturday at Wright State University.
“I thought we fought awfully hard. It would have been easy to mail it in in the fourth set, but I’m proud that the girls fought and fought and fought,” said Highland coach Rob Terrill. “Bishop Fenwick deserves a ton of credit. Their serve receive was spot on. We tried to move the ball on them, but it didn’t matter. Their first contact was better than ours. That made a huge difference right there.”
The Scots (25-5) and Falcons (28-1) were tightly matched throughout the day, with the largest lead being three points in the first three sets. Only in the finale did the Falcons open up any kind of lead (17-10), but even that one evaporated as quickly as it started.
“This is unbelievable. It was an absolutely incredible match played at an extremely high level,” said Fenwick coach Tyler Conley. “It was a really clean match. It’s not like one team lost it. I thought we went out and won it. I’d say that was the best match of the tournament without a doubt.”
The Scots and senior outside hitter Raina Terry came out hitting in the first set. Terry had nine kills for the Scots. The biggest lead of the set was the final score. Neither team gave an inch until the Scots finally got some big kills from Terry and Kendall Stover to put the set away.
“The first set our game plan was to make them off kilter. They are a very disciplined team when textbook, so we tried to move them around. I thought we did that early,” Terrill said.
The Falcons finally figured out how to at least slow down Terry in the second set and it showed in the score. Six-foot-1 senior Elizabeth Hoerlein got on track in the middle and helped the Falcons use a 4-0 run to grab control.
Highland fought back in the third to take control, getting some big blocks to take a 23-21 lead. But, the Falcons inched back into it with two more kills and an ace to grab the third set away from the Scots.
In the fourth, the Scots scored the first two points. But, from there until near the end, it was all Fenwick. A 5-0 run gave them the lead, then another 5-0 run and a 4-1 run nearly put the match away.
Terry and Gena West carried the Scots back into the match, though. Terry had two big kills and West had a block and a kill that pulled the set back to within three. That would be it though, as Fenwick got the point it needed to capture the title.
“It’s not like it (the momentum Fenwick gained by winning the third set) affected us,” Terry said. “We just did not execute as well as we wanted.
“As a senior in my last game, I wanted to leave everything out there. I wanted to leave it all out there for my teammates. It’s been a great season. It’s not like a lot of people expected us to get this far.”
Terry finished the day with 26 kills, 12 digs and five aces to lead the Scots.
“We knew she would get hers. We just made adjustments and did our job,” Conley said. “We knew if we did our job, it didn’t matter who was across the net. We were the better team.”
West finished with six kills and four blocks.
“We seniors knew this was hard. It was our last time playing together,” West said. “We’ve been playing together since we were seven years old. To come this far with each other, I’m happy. We went down swinging.”
The Scots also got seven kills and 11 digs from Makenna Belcher and seven kills, seven digs and four kills from Kendall Stover. Ashlynn Belcher dished out 40 assists and had nine digs, Abby Eusey had two digs and two blocks, and Darcie Walters had six digs.
Fenwick was led by Julia Gardon, who had 18 kills and 10 digs. Hoerlein added 15 kills and two blocks, and Kate Hafter had nine kills and two blocks. Setter Grace Maziar dished out 51 assists. She finished her career with 4,003 assists, a state record.
Highland community joins together to support volleyball team
It has been an exciting week for the players and the coaches of the Highland Scots, who made it to the OHSAA Division II High School Volleyball Championship Game for the first time in the history of the school. It has been every bit as much of a thrill for the teachers, classmates and family members, who crammed themselves into the Nutter Center at Wright State University in Dayton on Saturday to watch the Scots make history.
Despite Saturday’s loss, it will be a day that the Highland faithful will never forget — especially if you are Bill Eusey. The Delaware police officer is the father of two of the team’s players — junior Abby Eusey and freshman Alexis Eusey.
“It has been exciting,” Bill Eusey said. “Nervous as well. My junior starts, and I have a freshman who dresses. It’s a fun experience for both of them.”
Trying to help both girls to manage the emotions that go with playing in the biggest event in their team’s history requires two different approaches.
“I’m making sure my junior (Abby) doesn’t get too high,” Bill Eusey said. “I am also trying to keep my freshman’s spirits up because, obviously, she’s not playing, but it is a good experience for her to dress. It’s another month of practice that she was able to get, and the reps she’s getting are valuable. Anytime she can go up against Raina Terry in practice, that’s huge, right? So, that’s going to benefit her going forward.”
His coworkers also got into the act.
“We’ve got a thread going and I’m supposed to keep them updated,” Bill Eusey explained. “It’s kind of neat, because when we opened up the season, we opened up at Delaware Hayes, so some of them were able to come and watch. I think they are just as excited as I am. I had two time-off slips ready before the regional final, but I was like, ‘I don’t want to jinx us, so just hold those until we win.’ When we won the regional, I texted my supervisor and I said, ‘I need them all.’ It has been a great experience.”
Tim Belcher was able to call on his experience as a professional athlete to advise daughter Ashlynn and niece McKenna Belcher.
“Ashlynn handles it really well,” Tim Belcher said. “She handles it better than I would, to be quite honest. She’s very athletic. She moves well. She’s got good court sense. She doesn’t get too high and she doesn’t get too low. She just keeps it kind of even. She does a good job, I’m really proud of her. I think that my wife and I are more tense than Ashlynn is. She’s kept her cool very well.”
The elder Belcher has been able to offer some words of wisdom.
“All you’ve got to do is go out and play,” he said. “Just play hard and what happens, happens.”
He has been overwhelmed by the support of family, friends and community throughout the season, but especially this weekend.
“It’s been great,” Tim Belcher said. “I’ve got I have no idea how many family members are here. I know upwards of 20. I’ve got a big family and everybody lives pretty close. Lots of cousins, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and so forth. A good bit of our community in Sparta is here.”
Ginny West and her husband Aron have a big family, but last Saturday, Gena (a senior) and Emma (a sophomore) took center stage in the West family.
“I think Gena is a little more comfortable, but she was here in her freshman year (when Highland was in the state semifinal),” Ginny West said. “I think Emma has a little more nerves, but the excitement is there.”
It has been a unique experience for everyone, and something that has brought generations of Highland alumni together.
“It was amazing,” Ginny West said. “This morning was great, watching them come through town. We’ve been here for two days and we got two send-offs, and that means so much to them. I told him to soak it up. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and it’s huge in our community. I went to Highland, my husband went to Highland and so did my parents and my grandparents. This is huge to come this far. The whole town is here. There’s people I haven’t seen in years that have shown up here. I really want them to take this in, because they are blessed. This is huge. It’s a talent that they’ve been given, and I’m glad they are using it. They have been embraced by the whole community, and it means a lot.”
Highland golfer Gunner Oakley is part of a loyal group of student followers who have supported the Scots volleyball team since the season’s outset.
“It’s always fun to watch them come through,” Oakley said. “Just a build-up from districts, to regionals, to state, and watching how hard they work and their dedication.”
Oakley, along with a sizable group of his friends, try to rock the joint at every game.
“We are just a big family here at Highland,” he said. “We love coming along to support everybody. People came along and watched us golf. Ever since we were younger, we have come to all the big school events. We carpooled or we took a bus. There’s a lot of us here, but if you look around, we have a challenge because Fenwick has a big section too. We’re a pretty small town. Probably everybody packed up and came down here, but is the first time we’ve ever been to the state volleyball championship. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Mike Delaney, Highland athletic director, is less boisterous, but has been no less enthused.
“I think the special thing is that it gives the community a chance to get together and celebrate, not just the girls, but our athletic department as a whole,” Delaney said. “It allows our entire school system to spend some time together and do something that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Delaney has gotten to know every one of these players during their high school career. He has been there through all the hard work.
“This is an uncommon group, and I think, often times, in order to be uncommon you have to be unique and, obviously, this team is,” Delaney said. “It’s a great blend of seniors and underclassmen, and they really seem to get along well. They really play the game the right way. They seem to play better when they get smacked in the face a little bit or they get a little bit of adversity. They really seem to respond and pull together and work towards a common goal.”
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