After playing their hearts out in the semifinals, the Big Walnut Girls Volleyball team were beaten by defending state champions Padua Franciscan in the finals Nov. 11 at the Nutter Center.
Big Walnut led much of the first set, and their aggressive play was typified by outside hitter Kelsie Imertreijs, who was already sporting a black right eye after running into a table the night before to make a defensive save. On the second point, Imertreijs took another shot, this time to the face, but she shrugged it off and kept playing. At one point, BW was up 17-14 in the first.
However, Parma-based Padua got on a run, getting tips and keeping plays alive, to pull even and then ahead for good, 25-20. That was the Golden Eagles’ best chance to get a set, because the Bruins took control, led by junior middle hitter Abby Leigh’s 16 kills. Good serving by Samantha Ott and Julie Yurik and steady play at the tape by Cami Budzik and Ella Mihacevich forced some uncharacteristic miscues from the Red and Gold. Possibly playing six rotations and a tough five-setter the day before may have made BW a step slower.
Big Walnut got a 1-0 lead in the second set, but Padua pulled away 2-9 despite frantic digs by senior libero Meredith Thomas. Inconsistency serving and back row communication proved that another improbable comeback was unlikely, and Padua took the second set 25-14.
Sensing the kill, Padua stormed to 12-4 lead in the third set, and despite a late BW rally, they rolled to a 25-10 sweep and a 25-4 season. Coach James BeHarry won his third state title in five years, and the school’s fifth overall. With only three seniors on their squad, the loaded Bruins are primed for a three-peat next season.
Yet with four seniors, the Eagles (25-4) might be talented enough to be able to have a rematch next season. Coach Ron Lehman, in his 28th season at BW, has a 525-188 record. Unofficial stats had setter and Maryland recruit Machaela Podraza with 7 kills and 6 digs; 5 kills and 2 digs by senior outside hitter Emma Urhammer; 3 kills and 6 digs by Imertreijs; 3 kills by senior outside hitter Haley Griffith; 1 dig by senior middle hitter Emma Gebele; 4 digs by outside hitter Emily Vance; 5 digs by setter Samantha Bickley; 2 kills by middle hitter Kaley Rammelsberg.
“Once again you’ve had an outstanding season,” said Tim Stried of the Ohio High School Athletic Association said to the Big Walnut team during the trophy presentation. “Your ladies seven times have been to the final four. That is among the most in the state in any division. Yet again you get to bring another volleyball trophy back to Sunbury.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.