St. John’s senior Emily Horstman fires a shot through two Cory-Rawson defenders for a kill Wednesday night, with senior teammate Heather Vogt waiting to see if there is a ricochet. However, both Blue Jays played their final high school matches due to a 4-set loss to the Lady Hornets in sectional volleyball action at Ottoville.
OTTOVILLE — The first set in match 2 Wednesday night was one St. John’s would rather forget.
Unfortunately, they could never quite recover as Cory-Rawson ousted the Lady Blue Jays 25-9, 25-23, 19-25, 25-19 in the Division IV volleyball sectional at Ottoville’s L.W. Heckman Gymnasium.
“We didn’t come out with any intensity; we were sluggish and just came out too slow,” St. John’s coach Kellie Sterling began.
In the opener, Columbus Grove ended the nightmarish Continental season (0-22) with a 51-minute 25-5, 25-8, 25-18 sweep.
Sterling’s analysis of the Jays (7-16) and their start was right on and the Lady Hornets took advantage. They showed great balance at the net, with sophomore setter Kendra Tuttle (35 assists) using several weapons at the net: Jessie Ream (12 kills, 4 assists, 9 digs), the 6-2 Nicole Hulihan (9 kills), Alexis Gauss (7 kills, 12 digs) and Tessa Heitmeyer (6 kills, 12 digs). They scored the first five points and never looked back, especially with the Blue Jays committing eight errors from their side of the net (35 for the match). They built up their lead until set point, when Hulihan hit a cut shot to the Jays’ side of the court for a 1-set edge.
The Jays did recover in the second set, starting to turn things around by settling down. They led almost the entire way as senior Emily Horstman (8 kills, 11 digs), classmate Heather Vogt (6 kills, 5 stuffs) and sophomore Bekah Fischer (5 kills) started to get loose at the net and the Jays started to dig up kills better, with senior libero Katrina Etzkorn (31 digs) and senior Madison Zuber (9 digs) leading the effort. Still, they could not finish — a struggle all season — and it came back to get them. After taking a 23-21 edge on a serving error on the Hornets (4 for the night versus 10 aces), Ream put down a spike off the block to start the closing run for the Green and Gold: two hitting errors and a kill from the back row by Heitmeyer to complete the comeback and put the Hornets up 2-0.
“That was our major problem all season; we’d play well but couldn’t finish,” Sterling said. “You just can’t afford to not put teams away when you have the chance, especially at this time of year when you know they are going to be playing extremely hard.”
The Jays could easily have hung their heads after falling in the second set in that way but they did not. They started to take advantage of some hitting errors by the Lady Hornets (29 for the night) and the usual suspects started to play even more consistently, led by senior setter Christie Carder (18 assists, 8 digs). They took the lead for good at 8-7 on an ace by junior Kaylie Youngpeter and steadily added to their lead from then on. This time, there would be no Hornet rally as the Jays pulled away and halved their deficit with a push off the Hornet block from Youngpeter.
The Jays seemed to have all the momentum heading into the fourth set but couldn’t completely keep it. They led 14-10 on a Youngpeter ace but the pivotal run by C-R — a 5-0 span and after a trade of points, a 6-0 spurt — that put the Hornets in command at 22-15 on a hitting error. There was no rally by the Jays as Hulihan won a joust over the net on match point to seal the deal and advance to Saturday’s second match back at Ottoville against Columbus Grove.
Lauren Utrup and Bailie Hulihan also played their final matches for the Blue Jays.
“We didn’t give up and kept fighting. We just made too many mistakes in the end,” Sterling added. “We lose seven seniors and they have been a special group for me. They will be missed.”
The opener wasn’t nearly as close as the Bulldogs (17-6) flexed their muscles from the start and overwhelmed the young and inexperienced Lady Pirates.
“It’s nice to get that first match in. It’s different in the tournament because officials tend to be tighter and stricter, so it’s good to get that experience right away,” Grove coach Kelly Lepley noted. “The kids can relax a little bit more now and they can see what they need to do.”
Continental coach Jordan Streicher figures it’s simply a difference in talent.
“Grove is a good team; we can’t compete with them right now and we know that. They will be a tough out for anyone,” he began. “We have struggled with youth and inexperience all year going up against quality opponents; you saw a microcosm of our year in one evening.”
Junior Julia Wynn (10 kills) and junior Rachel Schumacher (33 assists) set the tone for the Bulldogs from the start with a kill on the first point and put the serve in the hands of Schumacher (5 assists). In the opening 11-0 span, she had three assists and all but two points came on either kills or aces. In fact, the Bulldogs were so dominant in the first set that the only points by the Lady Pirates came on Grove mistakes. Junior Emily Tabler (5 aces; 16 for the match as a team versus 10 missed serves) added three aces in the set and a hitting error on set point (21 for the match versus 13 for the ’Dogs) put set one in the Grove corner after only 12 minutes.
Grove didn’t have as great a start in the second set but the results were the same. They simply kept adding to their lead from start to finish as the Pirates — as hard as they tried — simply couldn’t match the Grove level of play. A hitting error on set point put Grove in complete command at 2-0.
Lepley felt comfortable enough to try different combinations in the third set, playing some junior varsity performers to get them tourney experience. Continental took advantage and held their first — and only — lead on the first point. Grove took the lead for good at 3-2 on a spike by Wynn and built it up to 11-5 on a mis-hit but the Pirates fought back. They got within one twice — the final time at 14-13 on a hitting error — but no closer. Steadily, the Bulldogs pulled away and sealed the deal on their 16th ace, this time by sophomore Sydney McCluer (5 kills, 19 digs).
“We missed some serves but I am not too concerned. I used some different players that aren’t used to varsity and I’ll live with errors there,” Lepley added. “You’ll have miscommunication and such when you hav e combinations that aren’t used to each other but I felt it was important to do so. We’ll focus in practice on those areas of concern the next two days and I expect we’ll be ready Saturday.”
Junior Elizabeth Selhorst added five kills for the victors.
“We have played hard all year despite the circumstances. I credit the girls for that; they easily could have given up any time, including tonight,” Streicher added. “We made the third set close. We’ll see what we can get done in the off-season; we only lose two seniors — Krystle Prowant and Casse Averesch — and we’ll keep trying to build.”
Topping the Lady Pirates were Prowant (9 kills) and juniors Cailah Rickard and Tia Escamilla (8 digs each).