Big-game players make big plays in big games, and no one came up bigger than Wauseon’s Cameron Estep.
After blowing a 17-6 first set lead, and falling behind 2-0 in sets, it was Estep who led a ferocious charge back in the next three sets for the Indians as they came from way back to beat Swanton 24-26, 18-25, 25-17, 25-20, 15-9 to win a Division III volleyball sectional semifinal at Swanton Monday.
The Indians play fourth-seed Fairview in a sectional final, while the Bulldogs bow out at 19-4 on the year.
“It’s been the story of this season. She is our senior leader, she was voted that by her teammates,” Indian coach Nic Encalado said. “Her hard work and dedication is the reason and she always wants more. If we set her 60 times tonight, she will want 70. That’s just the mentallity she has and that’s a phenomenal thing to have.”
Wauseon looked as if they were going to run away with the first set as they went up 10-1, then 17-6 behind a pair of Jazmine Barajas aces, another by Marissa Seiler, and a fourth from Estep.
In the midst of that long rally were six attack errors by the Bulldogs.
But what the volleyball gods giveth, they also taketh away as the Indians returned those six errors with two second-ball kills from Sofie Taylor in an 8-0 Bulldog run to get Swanton back in the set.
“They are a good team,” Encalado said of the Bulldogs. “We kind of relaxed and sometimes we say when a ball drops ‘well we’ll get the next one.’ We have to have that killer mentality that when even when we are up 11, we still need that ball. There can’t be any of that ‘we’ll get the next one.’”
Morgan Smith’s ace brought the Dogs even at 19 and Katlyn Floyd’s left-side kill pushed Swanton up 21-20.
Johanna Tester re-tied the set at 23 for the Indians, then Hayley Meyer’s block regained a Wauseon lead but two Indian miscues and Floyd’s ace ended the set.
A 5-0 Bulldog run brought Swanton from 8-7 down to 12-8 up in the second set.
Bailey DeKoeyer’s ace and Maddie Smith’s block on Estep led that charge.
After Wauseon closed to 17-15, Brooke Dockery nailed two scoring salvos from the right side to double the margin, and Morgan Smith recorded back-to-back aces to put Swanton up 2-0.
Even behind the eight-ball, Encalado was still positive.
“When we played before this season, we were down in the beginning of each set. Down six, down seven, down eight, so even though we were down two sets, we had been ahead and I was confident in our ability to come back.”
However, looking the end of their season in the face, the Indians, led by Estep, didn’t blink.
The 5-10 senior nailed three early lasers from the left side to give the Indians an 8-3 lead.
Swanton got the margin back to 9-8 on Taylor’s kill, but Seiler’s dump off the set, three more Bulldog attack mistakes and another Barajas ace made it 14-8.
Taylor’s ace chopped the lead to 15-13 but it was Estep once, twice and a third time, ripping the boards down the sideline from the left to blow the game open at 20-13.
After Swanton took a 10-8 fourth-set lead, mostly thanks to seven Indian shots off the court, Estep went to work again.
After an Addy Case ace, Estep nailed an earth-shattering bullet again down the sideline, smoked a trio of aces to go with Makayla Kebschull’s block, bringing the Indians from two down to up 15-10.
Floyd’s back-to-back bombs got the Bulldogs within reach at 17-15, but Estep came up big again with two more left-side kills and a set-ending ace to bring the match even.
Trista Eitniear’s shot kept the fifth set knotted for Swanton but one more time it was Estep bringing the Indians home.
It was almost like a rerun as Estep scored from the left five times during the fifth and deciding set, and notched two more aces to extend the Indian lead to the point where Jocelynne St. John-Fisher painted the right corner to end the match.
“The first time we played Swanton they tipped about 60 percent of the time,” explained Encalado. “It was successful for them so we really worked on our defense the last four or five days and really learned to read if they are going to tip or going to swing. Our blockers did a phenomenal job, our back row did a phenomenal job, it was (a) great team win.”
Wauseon almost had a repeat performance on Wednesday in the sectional final against Fairview played at Lake. This time, they dropped the fifth set after coming back to win sets three and four.
Game scores were 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 19-25, 15-12 in favor of the Apaches.