Ava Francis of Jonathan Alder blasts the ball over the net against Thornville Sheridan on Saturday. The Lady Pioneers beat the Generals, 3-1, to capture the Division II regional championship. The match was played at Pickerington North High School. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
There are so many instances where history plays a big role in sports.
Long-time dynasties are remembered for years, while tales of losing that stretch over decades cannot be forgotten.
A history of a much shorter nature could very well have been the spark that has allowed Jonathan Alder High School’s volleyball team to continue its 2020 season.
“I think what happened the other night was a lesson for us,” said coach Joe Ross. “That’s why we got out to such a strong start this afternoon.”
Ross was referring to Thursday’s Division II regional semifinal match against Dover.
The Lady Pioneers lost the first set of that match before winning the next three games.
Alder took a different approach Saturday afternoon.
JA won the first two sets against Thornville Sheridan and ended up taking the regional title battle by a 3-1 count.
The 26-24,25-23, 25-27, 25-14 triumph over the Generals sends Alder into the state volleyball Final Four for the first time since 2015.
The first three sets of the day provided as much drama as fans on either side of the Pickerington North High School gym could have expected.
The match was a battle against two teams that had put stellar seasons in the book.
The Generals went into the contest with a school single-season record of 27 victories against a single setback.
The Lady Pioneers had yet to taste defeat in 21 outings.
Neither team was able to achieve or keep any type of comfortable lead during the opening game.
Sheridan got off to a quick start and grabbed a 9-3 advantage after an ace serve from Kaley McCandlish.
Alder, however, began to fight back on kills by Gracie Nees and Ava Francis.
A General hitting miscue tied the battle at 11-all.
Sheridan, though, tallied a pair of quick points on kills from Abby Dupler and Ally Perkins.
Thornville sent a block out of play and then watched as Alder’s Kate Stroupe deadlocked the game at 13 with an ace serve.
Kills by Emma Shepherd and Lizzie Lombardi pushed JA out to a 15-13 edge.
A blast from Cassie Amore and an Alder hitting error created another stalemate at 19-19.
There were additional dead heats at points 21-through-23.
The Generals were only one point away from winning the set when Grace Conrad’s block gave them a 24-23 edge.
Francis thundered another of her 20-plus kills to the opposite side of the floor.
That tied the game at 24 and assured that extra points would be needed for a victory by either squad.
Alder went to set point – 25-24 – when the Generals sent a hit flying off the court.
Lombardi and Jaden Phelps then combined for a block that gave Alder the 26-24 victory.
All the drama did was intensify during the ensuing game.
The Generals held the upper hand by a handful of points until a kill from Shepherd tied the score at 7-7.
Shepherd again deadlocked the battle at 9-all with another kill.
Jonathan Alder began to give itself a little breathing room when Lombardi assisted on Francis’ kill that gave JA a 14-12 edge.
Shepherd slammed down a cross-court kill, while a General hitting miscue extended JA’s lead to 17-12.
Very few generals in history ever waved the white flag.
The Sheridan Generals refused to do so as they later tied the fight at 21-all.
A pair of rocket shots from Francis were too hot to handle as Alder moved to a 23-21 lead.
An errant JA block pulled Sheridan to within 23-22.
The game was later stalled at 23-23 after a Thornville block.
JA went to set point at 24-23 when Thornville couldn’t keep a blast by Francis in play.
Thornville then sent a pass into the net for JA’s 25-23 victory.
Despite being down 2-0 in sets, there was no surrendering from the Generals.
The third set was tied at 10-10 on a pair of Francis kills.
A misguided JA serve tied the contest at 14-14.
Kills by Phelps and Shepherd enabled Alder to maintain two-point leads for several minutes.
Thornville later went on top 22-20 after the Lady Pioneers were called for a lift infraction.
Another Francis kill tied the battle at 23, while Shepherd’s block gave JA a 24-23 lead.
The Lady Pioneers were just a point away from a sweep.
The Generals, however, had other ideas.
JA sent a block sailing out of bounds to tie the score at 24.
Conrad’s ace serve gave Sheridan a 25-24 edge.
Another kill from Shepherd left fans frantic as the score went to 25-all.
The Generals then took a one-point lead on Faith Stinson’s kill.
Alder couldn’t keep the ball in play after a Thornville serve.
That gave the Generals the point needed to win the set, 27-25, and pull to within 2-1.
The energy Sheridan expended in the first three sets left the team with a nearly empty tank during the final game.
The Generals could not get to balls hit over the net as quickly as they could during the first three games.
Meanwhile, Alder’s superior conditioning came into play.
While the Generals appeared weary, the Lady Pioneers were still in “rock-and-roll” mode.
Kills by Francis, Shepherd and Nees sparked JA to a 14-7 lead.
Phelps also got into the act from the middle when the Generals covered Alder’s outside hitters.
“Jaden had some nice kills to help Ava and Emma,” said Ross.
The Lady Pioneers climbed to an 18-7 margin when Stroupe fired an ace serve over the net.
Phelps came up with a kill that pushed Alder out to a comfortable 19-8 advantage.
The Generals put up as much of a fight as they had left, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Sheridan couldn’t keep the ball in play, which led to Alder’s 24-13 margin.
Amore’s kill gave the Generals their final point of the season.
Sheridan’s next block did not stay in play.
As a result, JA tallied its last point of the day and earned the regional championship trophy.
For the past few matches, Ross has been preaching the fact that serving and passing are the keys to victory.
He continued that theme on Saturday.
“Kennady Izzard, Emma and Ava were rock-solid with their passes all day,” said Ross.
“The longer you go in the tournament, the more important passing and serving become,” he said. “We had very good serving from, among others, Kate and Ellen Kennedy.”
Ross said he liked how the Lady Pioneers kept their composure throughout three very competitive sets.
“We don’t panic when things get tight,” he said. “That’s been one of our trademarks this season.
“All-in-all, it was a great team effort.”
The Lady Pioneers (22-0) will move into the state semifinals that will be held at Vandalia-Butler High School.
In years past, the state Final Four was played at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
That venue is not being offered to the Ohio High School Athletic Association this season due to coronavirus concerns.
Alder, which is seeded second in the Final Four, will face Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, No. 4 (13-4) at 10 a.m. on Friday in the state semifinals.