LANCASTER — Season-ending losses are always tough to accept, no matter what goals have been accomplished or the kind of season that has been put together.
And on Saturday evening, Notre Dame experienced that tough season-ending loss when the Lady Titans fell to Fairfield Christian Academy, 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 16-25, 19-25) in the Division IV, Region 15 Finals at Lancaster High School.
For Kelsey Glockner, the third-year head coach simply had to concede the victory to Fairfield Christian and how well the Lady Knights played.
“Going into every game, we try to always focus on our side of the court,” Glockner said. “It was just one of those days where we didn’t have our most successful try at defending our side of the court. Fairfield Christian just completely controlled their side of the floor, and they really came out and played the game of their lives. They earned it. They played fearless. We didn’t play as well as we were capable of, but that wasn’t because of a lack of effort or heart from the girls. You never have to worry about a lack of effort, a lack of sportsmanship, or a lack of heart from these girls. I’m still very proud of the girls and everything that they’ve accomplished this entire season. There were way more positives than negatives during the season.”
From the opening set, a highly competitive match took place inside the LHS gym as both units battled to seven ties or lead changes over the first 13 volleys of action. But after staying within a 9-8 margin through the first 17 volleys of play, Notre Dame fell behind as Fairfield Christian opened up an 18-12 on the Lady Titans behind a 9-4 spurt.
As they had done all season long, however, Notre Dame fought back with poise and grit.
Despite facing the aforementioned 18-12 deficit late in the first set, the Lady Titans rallied, and, behind a kill apiece from Lexi Smith and Katie Dettwiller, along with an ace apiece from Cassie Schaefer and Clara Hash, allowed the Lady Titans to cut the Fairfield Christian lead to 21-20 behind an 8-3 run of its own. However, a serving error and a ball handling miscue over the next four volleys proved to be too much for the Lady Titans to overcome as Notre Dame fell by a scant three points in the opening set of play.
“Fairfield Christian did a great job blocking, and they also did a great job on defense as far as digging was concerned,” Glockner said. “They made some really big plays. Volleyball’s a game of momentum, and those big plays can help you grab momentum. Once you have the momentum, that’s when you start to put together big scoring rides. They were able to do that and were able to get more points at a time than we were able to.”
But the second set, once again, showed the qualities that will make the 2017 version of the Notre Dame Titans the best to date in the history of the volleyball realm. Despite falling behind by a 3-0 tally to start the second frame of action, the Lady Titans — behind the excellent play of their 6-0 do-it-all athlete — rallied right back into contention.
Smith, as a matter of fact, couldn’t be stopped during the second set. Her 10 kills and a block during the frame allowed Notre Dame to overcome nine ties or lead changes during the first 17 volleys as the Lady Titans ultimately jumped out to a 10-8 lead.
Then, after Fairfield Christian came back to take a 13-12 lead, Smith responded with four kills over the next nine volleys to give Notre Dame the lead for good as the Lady Titans squared the contest up at a set apiece. Smith ultimately finished with yet another spectacular game (26 kills, .453 attack percentage, 13 digs, two blocks, two assisted blocks) en route to capping her high school career in a strong fashion.
“That’s just what we preach in our gym, and that’s the only way that we know how to respond,” Glockner said. “Knowing the heart of my kids and knowing that they give 100 percent effort, I really thought, ‘Ok, we’re going to be back.’ But Fairfield Christian kept chipping away.”
In the third set of action, Notre Dame looked strong to start as Hash collected a kill, while Smith and Schaefer added an assisted block to push the Lady Titans out to a 3-0 start in the third set. However, Fairfield Christian responded quickly by scoring 11 of the next 12 volleys behind the outstanding play of Blaire Barr, who collected five kills alone during that stretch. Barr finished with a strong 23 kills in the contest, with 11 of those coming in a decisive third-set victory that gave the Lady Knights a 25-16 victory.
“I had seen them play, I had scouted them, and I had seen a lot of things on them as a result of seeing them and scouting them out,” Glockner said. “They did a lot of things that I have never seen them do. They just came out ready to play, and they completely earned it.”
But despite that factoid, Notre Dame made Fairfield Christian Academy earn every last point.
With their proverbial backs against the wall, the Lady Titans came out with a thrilling display and overcame nine ties or lead changes over the first 13 volleys en route to taking a 7-6 lead off of an ace by Ava Hassel. Fairfield Christian, unfortunately, responded again — this time by doubling Notre Dame’s mark en route to a 10-5 run that gave the Lady Knights a 16-12 advantage midway through the third set.
With Notre Dame needing a spark, good old ‘Tournament Katie’ was there to provide it. The 6-3 junior tallied four kills over the next 10 volleys en route to finishing with 16 kills and a .393 attack percentage overall for the affair and leading Notre Dame to within three volleys, 21-18, in the closing stages of the fourth set. Unfortunately, a 4-1 run by the Lady Knights — coming off of two kills from Olivia Koehler — allowed Fairfield Christian to take the set and the match.
“Whatever team controls their side of the court at the end of the day is always going to be the team that wins,” Glockner said. “That’s just how volleyball is. If you can minimize your errors and take what the other team brings to the table on the chin in a regional championship match that is only decided by a few points, that is the team that will win. They did a better job of minimizing their errors than we did on Saturday.”
Still, with a 21-6 overall record and the school’s first-ever regional tournament victory in volleyball under its belt, it’s clear that Notre Dame has a lot to be proud of. That’s especially true with the two seniors (Ali Smith and Lexi Smith) that depart the roster. Lexi finished with 498 kills, a .470 attack percentage, 302 digs, 91 total blocks, and 76 aces to lead the team in all categories in 2017, while Ali finished with 259 digs and 42 aces in 2017 en route to spearheading the backline efforts with her leadership.
“You set your program to always strive for more and for the older players to pass on their knowledge to the younger players,” Glockner said. “I’m very fortunate in that regard, because every year, I have had different kinds of seniors that have set different kinds of examples that have inspired the youth. Lexi and Ali will be huge holes to fill on offense and defense, as well as from a leadership standpoint. They’ve raised the bar for the program and they’ve inspired people within the program with all of these eyes on them.”