By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Ten wins in a row, 13 of their last 14, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win a sectional semifinal match, sweeping a division rival for a sectional title and outplaying a No. 1 seed out of Cincinnati for their first district championship since 2010.
To say the Tippecanoe Red Devils finished the season strong would be a monstrous understatement.
And even though the Tippecanoe volleyball team regressed in Thursday night’s Division II regional semifinal round, falling 25-16, 25-17, 25-14 to Fenwick at Butler High School, no one can take away how far the Devils came from the beginning of the season to its end.
It marked a massive turnaround for the Devils, who have hovered around .500 or worse since reaching the regional title game in 2010, finishing with a 20-7 record and a runner-up finish in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division.
“We were 8-15 two years ago, 12-13 last year. This year was a big turnaround,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “You don’t get to the regional semifinal by being lucky. You don’t get a crowd like we had tonight to come cheer for you by being a bad team. But you’ve got to give Fenwick credit. They’re a very disciplined team.
“We worked very hard to get disciplined during the season, and we got there. But tonight we got pushed, and we couldn’t hold to that path.”
Tippecanoe began the match strong, with kills by Aubrey Cox, Taylor Prall and Emily Shuk helping them grab a 7-6 lead. After the Falcons tied the score, Taylor Braun served three straight points, with Shuk putting down another kill to give the Devils an 11-7 lead. Fenwick cut the deficit to one at 13-12, but Cox tricked the defense with a tip and Laura Rosselit scored a block, and Tippecanoe led 15-12.
And then everything went wrong in one service run.
A tip-kill by Fenwick’s Jayna Thompson gave the serve to teammate Gwyn Oliver, the team’s libero. She proceeded to serve the next 10 consecutive points, picking her spots at will and throwing Tippecanoe out of system by finding the weaknesses in the Devils’ serve receive. Thompson had a block and Blaise Chaney had a block and two kills during the run — a run that forced Tippecanoe to burn both timeouts. Back-to-back aces by Oliver and a Chaney kill capped off the run, and by the time an error finally brought it to an end, it was far too late.
“We’ve been preaching ball control since the beginning of the season,” Garcia said. “We had the lead at 15-12, but she got us completely out of our rhythm, and we only scored one point after that. When a team is attacking and being offensive, you tend to choose to be conservative with your approach. And when you’re conservative, that’s what can happen.”
The turning point in the match, though, came early in Game 2.
A kill by Prall, a block by Cox and a kill by Alyssa Crusey gave Tippecanoe a 5-4 lead early and brought life back to the rowdy Tippecanoe crowd. Then, after a solid serve forced a bad return by Fenwick, Cox capitalized on the short ball by hammering it to the floor and the Devils were soaring.
A whistle brought them crashing down, though, as a player was called in the net, wiping the point off the board and tying the score. Mentally, the Devils couldn’t recover, losing seven of the next eight points to fall behind 12-6, and just like that the Falcons held a 2-0 lead in the match.
“We felt another run coming, but we couldn’t sustain it,” Garcia said. “You can play volleyball hard, but you’ve got to be controlled. I’m not saying the girls didn’t play their hearts out, because they did. We just lost our discipline.”
Game 3 was more of the same, as the Devils couldn’t string passes together to get quality swings at the net as the Falcons’ service game kept them out of system. An early five-point run put the Devils down 9-4, but two kills by Shuk, a block by Kara Trimbach and an ace by Taylor Waltemathe cut the deficit to 11-9, but that was as close as Tippecanoe could get as the Falcons quickly rebuilt an 18-10 edge and never looked back.
“We couldn’t play our game. We couldn’t receive serve, which meant we couldn’t run our middles at all,” Garcia said. “Our defense was doing the best it could with what it was getting. We couldn’t maintain our discipline.
“If we played them again, maybe the result would be different. But that’s the joy about the tournament — you’ve just got to be the better team one time.”
Shuk led the Devils with five kills and a block, Cox had four kills and a block, Crusey had three kills and a block, Prall had two kills, Rosselit and Trimbach each had a block and Waltemathe had an ace.
It was the final match in the careers of seniors Crusey, Cox, Waltemathe, Braun, Trimbach, Rosselit and Jordan McMahan — a group revitalized the Tippecanoe program.
“The fire and tempo Fenwick plays with just changed everything,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to get our girls there, and I think we will. We’ll miss our seniors. Those girls have rebuilt the tradition of our program, and now it’s up to our underclassmen to hold onto it. And I have a good feeling they will.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.