CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — They didn’t reach their ultimate goal, but it did take a state champion five grueling games to prevent the Lady Defenders from getting there.
There were 26 ties and 30 lead changes leading up to a pivotal fifth game, but Mars Hill Academy led wire-to-wire in the finale while claiming a 23-25, 25-18, 27-25, 12-25, 15-8 victory over Ohio Valley Christian in the 2016 Ohio Christian Schools Athletic Association championship volleyball match held Saturday at the Maxwell Center on the campus of Ohio Christian University.
The Lady Defenders (23-2) — champions of the Southeast regional — were tested early and often by the Lady Highlanders (19-9), who made the trek from Mason after winning Southwest regional title.
There were seven ties and eight lead changes in the opening game alone, and both squads led by at least two points.
OVCS secured its largest lead of Game 1 with an 18-12 edge, but Mars Hill responded with seven straight points to take its final advantage at 19-18.
The Lady Defenders answered with three consecutive points, but MHA rallied to knot things up at 23-all. Ohio Valley Christian won the final two points to take a 1-0 match advantage.
Mars Hill never trailed in Game 2 after breaking away from ties at one and again at eight. The Lady Highlanders led by eight points on four different occasions before tying the match at one apiece with the seven-point win.
The gem of the match came in Game 3 as both teams held leads at least seven different times throughout the course of its completion. Overall, there were 16 ties and 17 lead changes in the middle game alone — and neither squad led by more than three points.
After trailing 15-12, OVCS responded with an 11-7 surge that led to its final lead of Game 3 at 23-22. There were ties at 23-, 24- and 25-all, but Mars Hill came up with the final two points while securing a 2-1 match advantage.
The Lady Defenders, however, rebounded nicely as they never trailed in Game 4. After breaking a three-all tie for serve, Cori Hutchison recorded 15 consecutive service points that gave OVCS its largest lead of the evening at 19-3.
The Lady Highlanders never came closer than a dozen points the rest of the way as the Ohio Valley Christian tied the match at two with the 13-point outcome.
In the race-to-15 finale, MHA scored the first six points and led by at least four points the rest of the way — allowing the Lady Highlanders to claim the 2016 state title with the seven-point win.
In the five games played, Mars Hill managed to outscore the Lady Defenders by a single point with a 102-101 overall margin.
It wasn’t the final outcome that OVCS first-year coach Heather Priddy had hoped for, but she was quick to note that her troops did everything they had to do to win a state title. Given the competitiveness of the match, it was kind of hard to be disappointed with a silver medal.
“Our ultimate goal was to win state this year, and we came up just a little short of getting there. Then again, we did everything we had to do to get ourselves in a position where we were playing for a state title. Losing in five games in the state final does not take away from anything that we accomplished this year,” Priddy said. “I’m really proud of what these nine girls have given to make this year so special, especially being my first year with the program.
“We all put in the work to do everything that we could to win a state title and it just didn’t work out for us in the end, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort. We gave our best and there is no shame in being a state runner-up. They will always be winners in my book.”
With two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen set to return for the 2017 campaign, next fall could be just as memorable for the Lady Defenders. But, in losing seniors Katie Bradley and Rachel Sargent, Priddy also admits that next year will take even more hard work to get back to this point.
“This is a good group of girls and a lot of them should be back for hopefully another run next year, but those two seniors … I just can’t say enough about them,” Priddy said. “Katie and Rachel have been great team leaders that have led by example. They’ve shown the younger girls what it takes to be successful and how hard work can get you places.
“The younger girls will have some big shoes to fill next year in replacing those two, but I also know the returnees will be up for the challenge of building on what we’ve accomplished this season.”
Hutchison led the OVCS service attack with 22 points, followed by Emily Childers with nine points and Bradley with eight points. Sargent and Marcie Kessinger were next with four points apiece, while Katie Westfall chipped in three points.
Sargent led the net attack with 13 kills and eight blocks, followed by Bradley with 10 kills and Westfall with eight kills. Hutchison also had a block in the setback.
Mackenzie Ricketts led MHA with 15 service points, followed by Holly Edwards with 11 points and Sarah Cotterman with nine points. Tessa DeBra and Anna Edwards also chipped in six and five points, respectively.
Lizzie Pereira and Annie Lockett added four points and one point for the victors.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.