“It’s been unreal. I’m still shaking,” Brunner said after the Falcons topped their Greater Catholic League Coed Division rivals. “There’s just something special about this team. We’ve been dreaming of this day since Day 1 of practice, and we’re not done. We want to win it all and show everyone what we’ve got.”
WEEK 11 FOOTBALL COVERAGE
» Defense dominant in Madison’s playoff-opening shutout
» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Madison-Portsmouth
» New Miami’s historic run ends with lopsided playoff defeat
» Slow start, fast finish as Badin opens playoffs with win
» Milford’s huge rally stuns Fairfield in playoff opener
» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Fairfield-Milford
» Defense powers Fenwick in playoff-opening win over CJ
» East earns postseason upset, ousts GMC rival Mason
» Nick Graham’s photo gallery from Lakota East-Mason
» LM sinks Edgewood with fourth-quarter playoff rally
Junior middle hitter Elizabeth Hoerlein was among the key figures at the net for Fenwick (23-5), which extended its winning streak to 11 and avenged an Oct. 1 loss to the Spartans (26-1).
“I’ve always wanted to go to state. It’s really exciting, and I just think we deserve it,” Hoerlein said. “It’s crazy. I always knew that we would come a long way, but it’s sinking in right now.”
The Falcons also made it to state in 1980, 2009, 2010 and 2015, winning the Division III state title in 2010.
This year’s Final Four at Wright State University’s Nutter Center is set — Fenwick will play Parma Heights Holy Name at noon Friday, with Mentor Lake Catholic vs. Columbus Hartley to follow at 2 p.m. The state final will be Saturday at 3 p.m.
“It’s a big sigh of relief,” Falcons coach Tyler Conley said. “This is something we want for the kids. They deserve it, they’ve earned it, and I’m so, so proud of them.
“To let them have that experience of going to state is something that’s special to me. It’s why I do what I do. Seeing them walking out of that tunnel and seeing the Nutter Center for the first time is going to warm my heart.”
Fenwick had to survive a tense slugfest with Bacon to advance. It went like this: 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, 16-25, 15-7.
Julia Gardon (23), Grace Dinkelaker (14), Hoerlein (12) and Kate Hafer (five) were the leaders in a 61-kill performance for the Falcons.
“Holy cow, that’s unbelievable,” Conley said. “I couldn’t be more pleased. You go out against a defensive team like that and execute the way that we did … it’s just unreal.”
Bacon, led by junior middle hitter Kelly Brenner, started slowly in all five sets. The Spartans were down (in order) 6-2, 8-2, 6-0, 7-2 and 7-2.
“We had some momentum going into the fifth set,” Bacon coach Alyssa Flading said. “We had to jump on them quick and we hadn’t done that all game, so that was something I was worried about. Unfortunately, it showed up again.”
Hoerlein was particularly strong at the net in the final set.
“I was a little nervous,” she said. “I just knew I had to turn it on and my teammates had to turn it on. We had to push through.”
Conley said his team’s play down the stretch was “beautiful to watch.”
“All we were doing was preaching to stay the course,” he continued. “Bacon is so even-keeled. We didn’t want to ride that emotional roller-coaster. We needed to play our game and don’t worry about anything else.
“I opened up the huddle (going into the fifth set) with, ‘Hey, don’t make this bigger than what it is. You’re playing a game with your best friends. You’re playing the game you love with the ones you love the most. This is a great way to spend our Saturday afternoon.’ ”
Said Brunner, who contributed 28 digs, “He just kept saying, ‘Stay the course.’ We had to keep doing our thing. We looked at it like we’ll just do what we do and, no matter what, we have more energy. And more energy wins.”
Bella DeSalvo totaled 38 digs, Emma Schaefer had 17 and Gardon added 11 for Fenwick, while Grace Maziar collected 57 assists. Hoerlein (five), Gardon (four) and Hafer (three) were among the block leaders, and Caroline Hensley served four aces.
“Our girls needed to have their best defensive game and our best serve-receive to win, and today wasn’t our best,” Flading said. “But I’m super proud of them being able to come back in that fourth set.”
The Spartans are losing five seniors: MaryKate Dewees, Sarah Dougoud, Olivia Hawkins, Sam Huber and Haley Hoffman. But tradition doesn’t graduate, and Bacon has been a player on the state volleyball scene for a long time.
“Roger Bacon will be here again next year. You can bet on it,” Flading said. “Our five seniors will be missed. I don’t think I’ve had this type of leadership in a team before. These younger girls need to remember this group of seniors because they’re what leaders are all about.”