CINCINNATI -- The Ursuline Academy volleyball team had felt enough heartache on the court in the past few seasons at the Division I regional final.
It was time to win. No more disappointment. No more tears. No more heartache.
After losing four straight regional finals to Girls’ Greater Catholic League rival Mount Notre Dame, the Lions went out and took the title Saturday night in four sets — 25-18, 19-25, 25-16 and 25-23.
— Tom Ramstetter (@tramstetter) November 5, 2017
“We said, 'We’ve got to go,'” senior middle blocker Ali Thompson said. “We know what it feels like (to lose), and we haven’t put in all this work for nothing. It’s time to go, and it’s time to win. Everyone went out and stayed aggressive and did their jobs. I had no doubt we would pull it out.”
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The Lions (26-1) will play Dublin Coffman in a Division I state semifinal at 2 p.m. Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center in Fairborn. The state final will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Nutter Center.
After watching MND celebrate the past three seasons, Thompson, who has been a key player for Ursuline since she was a freshman, could barely contain her excitement after the match.
“I can’t even describe the feeling in words,” Thompson said. “It’s something we’ve worked so hard for. It’s been our goal the last four years and to finally achieve it and all of our hard work paying off and to do it together with everyone playing so well, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
With Ursuline clinging to a 24-23 lead and up a set late in the fourth, a block by senior Lexi Reinert fell to the floor on MND’s side and the celebration began.
“That (senior outside hitter Natalie) Steibel kid was getting kills on us all day and I told Lexi all we needed was one block and she got it at the end,” longtime Ursuline coach Jenni Case said. “It was awesome.”
The Lions had finally their regional title.
“State is the ultimate goal, but we hadn’t beaten them yet and to see that ball hit the floor and for it to be for us, it’s unbelievable,” senior outside hitter Maddy Taylor said. “All of our work, all of our sweat and all of our tears from the previous years had gone into that one moment. It’s just indescribable. I don’t know how to describe it.”
“Nothing I have ever experienced before,” senior middle blocker Suzanna Lang said. “All of our hard work finally paid off.”
It was a feeling that the players somehow knew they’d have Saturday. Even when the Cougars rallied from a 7-2 deficit in the deciding fourth set to tie it at 13 and take the lead, the Lions kept their composure. When Mount Notre Dame led 20-18 in the final set and threatened to send the match to a fifth, the Lions stood their ground.
They were not nervous.
“No,” Lang said. “This year we were more relaxed. We knew we could do it from the get-go. We just had the confidence and we never gave up.”
After all, the Lions were up a set.
“Jenni had told us at the beginning of the fourth game that we have the lead and we are the ones playing to win right now,” Taylor said. “We need to be calm and confident. I think we came out like that. When they started coming back and it was back and forth, we were like, 'Now it’s time to go.' We just can’t let them get two points in a row.”
While the players were holding it together, Case was questioning herself a bit.
“We had that lead and we lost that lead,” Case said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I should have called time out sooner.’ I didn’t feel like they had a string of points necessarily and that’s why I didn’t call it. After we gave that lead up, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’
“But with this team, they’re not shaken up out there. My past teams got nervous. These guys all year just stayed so composed and I could tell they were just confident. And that’s a great feeling.”
That feeling is because of a talented and experienced senior class of seven with Thompson, Lang, Taylor and Reinert, and defensive specialist Chloe Metzger, middle blocker Amanda Robben and defensive specialist Neely Reilly.
“Everyone looks out for each other,” Thompson said. “Everyone looks out for the underclassmen. There are no selfish people, and no one wants to be the superstar. Everyone looks out for the team. To have that many people with that much experience, it helps out.”
Case’s Ursuline teams have reached the regional final in each of her 12 seasons coaching the Lions and she has state titles in 2009 and 2012. But Saturday was the first time her team had beaten Mount Notre Dame three times in a season since 2008 and it was the first time her Lions beat MND in a regional final.
Ursuline beat MND 25-16, 29-27, 25-22 Sept. 14 at MND 25-22, 26-28, 25-19, 25-22 at home Oct. 3.
“I just had a good feeling this year,” Case said. “Seven seniors. You’ve got your libero back. You’ve got your setter back. We’re just real balanced. They kept their composure and that’s what you want.”
Mount Notre Dame stormed to a 6-0 lead in the first set Saturday night, but Ursuline rallied to tie it at 8-8 after a time out and then hang around until separating for a 25-18 opening set win.
MND led throughout and took Set 2, 25-19. Ursuline dropped the first point of the third set, but came back with five straight points and surged to a 25-16 win, setting up the dramatic fourth set.
Thompson finished with 10 kills, five assists and two aces. Lang finished with 16 kills and three assists and Taylor had 18 kills. Jenni Case’s daughter, sophomore setter Logan Case, had 47 assists and eight kills. Libero Maggie Huber made 22 digs.
“They’re a great team and a great program,” Case said. “Any time you play them, I know what I’m going to get. I got the monkey off my back.”