By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
KETTERING — With the score tied 24-24 and Versailles leading the match 2-0, Miami East’s Gabrielle Hawkins made save after save in the backcourt, doing everything possible to keep the Vikings’ tournament hopes alive.
“She has 1,000 career digs for a reason,” Miami East volleyball coach Dan Peterson said. “They’re seniors, and when you see what could be your last points of your high school career, you get a little extra edge — you don’t want to let anything die.”
In the end, though, the Tigers simply continued to send punishing shot after shot over the net, winning what proved to be the longest rally of the match and then scoring an ace by Rebecca Knapke on the next point to close out a sweep as Versailles defeated Miami East 25-14, 25-20, 26-24 in the Division III regional semifinal round Thursday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
It was the third straight year that the Vikings’ season has ended with a loss to Versailles in the regional tournament. Last year, the Tigers defeated the Vikings in the regional semifinal, as well, and in 2017 Versailles defeated East in the regional final — both times going on to win the state championship. And in 2016, the Vikings defeated the Tigers in the regional semifinal on the way to a state title of their own.
“We did a good job of fighting there at the end,” Peterson said. “The girls did what we asked. But we’ve gotten to know Versailles well over the years, and they just do everything so well. They take a cue from (coach) Kenzie (Bruggeman) herself with how tough and intense she is, and it shows in the way they play.”
Versailles, which improved to 15-12 with the win, advances to face CHCA in Saturday’s regional final. But, thanks to playing in the Midwest Athletic Conference during the regular season, Bruggeman feels her Tigers will be ready for anything they might see.
“It’s unreal. You get out of it and see the different types of competition and the records, and it really just doesn’t compare,” Bruggeman said. “The speed of it, the athleticism, the intensity, we’re so fortunate to be in that all season. I’ll take that over a bad record any day.”
Miami East, which finished 18-9, knew exactly what it was going to see from Versailles with four players at 6-foot or higher in the lineup — and the Vikings topping out at 5-10.
The Tigers used that to their advantage early on, with Lindsey Winner helping Knapke serve up a six-point run with three early kills to spot Versailles a 6-1 first-set lead. Later, with the Vikings still staying close down 14-12, Winner had a personal six-point run, putting down four kills and a pair of blocks to give the Tigers an eight-point lead, and they closed the set out from there.
“I’m sick of seeing Winner girls in the lineup for them,” Peterson said with a smile. “We knew it was going to be a struggle with their height and our lack of height. We had some luck doing some things trying to slow it down and hit to different spots, but when they keep coming in waves at you that tall, it’s a little more difficult.”
“It definitely plays a factor,” Bruggeman said. “We work on blocking a ton because we know how much of an asset it can be. Sophie (Jacomet) is a great player and (Sierra Kinnison) is a great player, and to be able to slow them down a little bit and make them uncomfortable was definitely to our advantage.”
In the second set, the Vikings kept the score tied as late as 16-16 after a kill by Jacomet, but a block by Raegen Shaffer, a kill by Brooke Stonebraker and an ace by Winner helped push the Versailles lead to 21-16, and the Tigers held East off from there to take a 2-0 lead.
And in the third, Versailles led by as many as five at 13-8, but the Vikings battled throughout the set in an attempt to stave off elimination. Jacomet had three kills late to help close the gap, and a block by Nichole Hood tied the score at 24-24. East then kept the next point alive as long as possible, but hit after hit by the Tigers finally wore the Vikings down and they couldn’t return one to set up match point, and Knapke served an ace to finish off the match.
Winner finished with a match-high 17 kills, four blocks and one ace, Stonebraker added 12 kills and two blocks, Shaffer had three kills and two blocks and Emma George had three kills.
Jacomet, another senior who broke the 1,000 career digs mark this season, led the Vikings with seven kills, two aces and 10 digs on the night.
“She did (play well). She’s another four-year starter, senior for us, started on our state championship team in 2016,” Peterson said of Jacomet. “We expect her to come out and play well, and she did. No surprises from her, either.”
Hawkins led the defense with 22 digs and added two assists and an ace, Megan Gilliland had five kills, two and one ace, Nichole Hood had five kills, eight digs and one ace, Sierra Kinnison had three kills six digs and two assists, Gretchen Frock had 15 assists, five digs and one ace and Megan McDowell had one assist.
It was the final match in the careers of seniors Hawkins, Jacomet, Hood, Frock and Lauren Fisher.
“I could write a book about this senior class, to be honest,” Peterson said. “Gabbie and Sophie started their freshman year, they both played big roles all the way through to that state title, and we’ve grown pretty close over their four years here. They’ve won a lot of games, four league titles, four district titles, four regional appearances … they’ve been a great group. They’re the first group that I’ve had all four years here, too, so we’ve got that connection.
“We’ve done a lot of great things together. Mostly them, not me,” he added with a chuckle.
And while the Vikings continued their lengthy runs of 10 straight overall Cross County Conference championships, nine straight district titles and nine straight regional appearances, Peterson still would have liked a few more matches with his Vikings.
“It is (tough), and the girls know that,” he said. “We lay out our expectations to them each year, and we meet them for the most part. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, just like Versailles does, to get back here. It sounds bad to say we’re disappointed to lose in a regional semi when most teams would kill just to get to a regional semi, but it’s just our expectation.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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