Contributed by James Weber - Cincinnati Enquirer
Facing an opponent with three players over 6-feet tall didn’t faze the volleyball team at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.
Most of the Eagles are under 5-foot-10, but they had prepared for a run at the OHSAA Division III State Championship by playing bigger schools during the season.
CHCA came into the state semifinals with a 20-7 record, but five of the losses were to Girls Greater Cincinnati League Division I powers, and another to Division II power Roger Bacon. CHCA was reasonably competitive in all of those matches, including a five-set loss to Mercy McAuley and a loss to Division I state finalist Mount Notre Dame.
The Eagles weren’t intimidated when they faced Huron Saturday night at Butler High School, but the opponent’s height and depth advantage were too much for the Eagles. CHCA lost 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-18) to finish 20-8. Huron, a four-time state champion located on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland, advanced to Sunday night’s state final with a 24-2 record.
“We were very excited for tonight’s game,” CHCA head coach Lisa Schaad said. "We had an awesome season. Just to be able to play in this venue with COVID happening is definitely beyond what we imagined. We have a great group of seniors who have led this team all year long, and we’re very thankful to be here and play Huron.”
Huron had three players over 6-feet, including one at 6-2, and the trio combined for 19 kills against only one error. Huron's balance really took its toll on the Eagles, as five Tigers had between four and nine kills, and the Tigers committed only seven hitting errors for the match.
“They were well-balanced all the way around,” Schaad said. “I didn’t think the height advantage was as big for us as it had been in the past. We’re used to it. What threw us off today was the well-balanced swings across the net. It’s hard to have a game plan against certain people because they’re getting you from all angles.”
CHCA had one fewer kill than the Tigers (34-35) but 26 hitting errors against Huron’s tough defense and blocking.
“(We) played a solid, steady match,” Huron head coach Don Wood said. “We were patient when we had to be patient. We’re playing a really good ball-control team. Our patience to get good swings paid off. Having confidence in your block to take care of the net and that your defense is going to do well. That forces teams to do things they’re not comfortable with. That’s a team I wouldn’t expect 26 errors from.”
CHCA senior Rylie Wichmann, the newly crowned Division III District Player of the Year, led CHCA with 16 kills and 17 digs. Senior Katie Gansle had nine kills and two blocks. Senior Katelyn Grimes posted six kills and 14 digs. Sophomore Katharine Clayton had 11 digs.
Huron took a big early lead in each set. Huron led 7-1 in set one and 20-12 late. CHCA put on a run to cut the lead to 22-18 on the serve of Grimes, who employs a booming jump serve with topspin.
After a Huron timeout, Grimes hit the net on her next serve and Huron held on to win 25-20. Huron’s defense limited Grimes to one ace on the night.
“We knew the rotation they might be in, so we got a couple of people prepared for that,” Wood said. "That’s a good serve. She serves it pretty hard.”
Huron led 10-2 in the second set. CHCA was within three at 12-9 in the third set before making a variety of errors in a clinching 6-2 run by the Tigers.
“We just needed to make a few side-out plays earlier on,” Wichmann said. “In a tough match like this, getting down five or six points is really hard to come back from. I’m just really proud of how we kept fighting. Even though we lost by a decent amount every set, our energy on the floor never dropped, and that says a lot about our character."
While Huron may have been too big, the moment wasn’t. Scheduling GGCL schools helped with that.
“The mindset was to definitely get over the size advantage that some of these northern Ohio teams have over us,” Schaad said. “When COVID happened, it opened up a lot of games for them and they were able to get on our schedule. Those losses didn’t hurt our mindset, they helped us figure out how to win against big teams.”
In addition to Wichmann, the Eagles lose First-Team All-District seniors Gansle and Grimes, plus Second-Team Honoree Erin McDaniel and Sarah Sandstrom. McDaniel posted 12 assists tonight.
Wichmann said the tough schedule and the uncertainties of COVID helped them keep things in perspective.
“It helped our mindset in defining what’s a win and a loss,” Wichmann said. “We are playing for the people in the stands and playing for Jesus and his kingdom. We really had to stay true to that. It would have been really easy to get down when we came close to beating a huge GCL school. We wanted to get the win tonight, but I’m proud of how we glorified God on and off the court."
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