“She said no! She said no!”
That chant was heard over and over Tuesday night from a large and raucous Evergreen student section. Maybe it was because the Vikings stuffed and blocked attack after attack, and in a match where the winner got the gold and the loser got nothing, the Vikings swept Bryan 25-19, 25-17 and 25-21 to snare a share of the 2018 NWOAL volleyball title.
The championship was the first for Evergreen since 2015. Evergreen shares the title with Wauseon after their win over Swanton.
“This is always a goal of ours and mine for this program,” explained head coach Nichole Thanasiu. “The first practice out of the gate I knew we were capable of doing something special.”
The Vikings, who were picked behind both Bryan and Wauseon in the pre-season rankings, started slowly as Jess Robb nailed two scores from the middle and Abby Fernihough scored an ace and a left-side kill to boost Bryan to a 5-1 lead.
However, the Vikes scored five straight – including a Nicole Brand stuff at the net – and Claire Conrad’s first ball kill to bring Evergreen back to even, 5-5.
Attacks from Kennedy Lamberson, Madison Johnson and Fernihough helped get the Golden Bears back up 9-6 but Evergreen chipped away, mostly due to four straight Bryan serves that went out and a pair of McKenna Babcock kills to get within 15-14.
Then it was Brand again with a solo block to knot the score, then another to put the Vikings ahead.
After an Evergreen swing went long, the 5’8” junior scored again at the net with a redirect stuff of an overpass that ignited a 7-0 run.
With the Viking back row of Cece Silvestri, Zoe VanOstrand and Kennedy Keifer scooping up attacks like puppies digging up a hidden treasure of bones, the defense turned to offense, and Evergreen got on a roll.
Kori Kreuz’ smoking blast from the middle and a Silvestri ace were followed by three straight Bryan errors before Kreuz painted the back line with a shot from the middle to end the first set.
“We always start out a little slow,” said Thanasiu. “It’s one of our flaws. But the thing is we always bounce back and we serve aggressively. We knew one of their best serve receivers is their libero Gwen Spengler, and our game plan was to avoid her at all costs.”
The second set started exactly the same as the first with the Bears taking a 9-6 lead behind two kills from Johnson and another couple from McKendry Semer.
Kreuz’ redirect from middle to right lit the fuse on the time bomb and the Vikings exploded again.
Savannah VanOstrand’s shot from the right, Kreuz with a stuff block in the middle, and then the same duo with the same copycat results, along with a left-side shot from Kelsie Komisarek took the Vikes from three down to up 14-9.
The Bears rallied, and forged their way into a 16-16 tie as Robb hit twice from the middle along with kills from Lamberson, Semer and Fernihough.
A double call and Babcock’s kill off a block attempt put the Vikes up two, but a long serve chopped that lead in half and also gave Bryan the ball and serve.
“She said no! She said no!”, began to ring over and over like a bad dream for Bryan as Brand alternated solo blocks with left side stingers from Komisarek for the next five points before Brand’s fourth block in the flurry and Zoe VanOstrand’s ace finished off the Bears in set two.
“Our defense is led by our blocking,” Thanasiu said. “Our blocking had to be on point today with their two big hitters and whoever won at the net would dictate the game. Nicole and also Kori just stepped up in a big, big way.”
Lamberson was the key in the third set as the senior hitter scored twice on kills and with an ace to give Bryan a slim 10-9 lead.
Tick, tick, boom!
Again, one big play flamed the fire in yet another big Evergreen run.
This time it was Babcock with a swooping left-side bullet down the sideline to tie the set, a Bryan hit into the net, and yet another Brand block. A conventional right side hit by Savannah VanOstrand, a first ball slam by Babcock and two aces from Kreuz took the Vikings to a 17-10 lead.
The teams traded points until 21-14 when Kreuz recorded a block to seemingly put Evergreen in control.
Bryan had one last flurry as Johnson rang up two left-side kills and Fernihough another, bringing Bryan within 23-20. However, the next Bear attack went out to put Evergreen at title point.
“They are tough,” Thanasiu said about the Bears. “They weren’t about to give it up tonight. We needed to refocus a little bit and during a timeout we talked about just refocusing and finishing the match.”
A too tight to the net gave Bryan one last hope, but the ensuing serve was long to give the Vikings a share of their first title in three years.
“Again this was something we believed we could accomplish,” Thanasiu said with a smile. “This was one of our goals.”
The Vikings move to 14-7 overall and drew a bye as the third seed in the Division III district tournament.
Evergreen will play a sectional final at a site to be determined, October 20, against the winner of the Archbold-Fairview match.
Reach Joe Blystone at firstname.lastname@example.org