WHEELERSBURG — After a tough loss to SOC I leader Eastern last Thursday, the Notre Dame Titans did some soul searching. With the midpoint of their season quickly approaching, they needed a spark to reignite their season.
On Monday evening, they may have just found that spark.
The Titans (9-3, 5-1 SOC I) shocked Wheelersburg for a gutsy five-set road victory, winning 17-25, 25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 17-15.
“I’m so proud of them,” Notre Dame coach Kelsey Glockner said. “…I believe in them. I know what they’re capable of. That’s what a big win does — it makes all of their hard work pay off.”
The Titans needed to work extra hard after Wheelersburg (9-3, 5-1 SOC II) jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first three sets of the match.
Trailing 14-12 in the pivotal fourth game with their backs against the wall, Notre Dame needed a break, and got one in the form of a Pirate violation. That’s when sophomore Ali Smith took the serve and changed the complexion of the match.
She served the Titans to five straight points — including an ace — to help Notre Dame take the momentum in a 7-1 run. Fellow sophomore Lexi Smith came up with a pair of kills during the span to help aid the Titan streak.
Lexi Smith was a force all night long for the Titans, but it wasn’t her big spike that propelled Notre Dame — it was her quick tips.
“She was very, very disciplined tonight,” Glockner said. “That’s a huge factor in winning games, especially in playing a great team like Wheelersburg.”
The Pirates were able to piece together a quick run of their own, thanks to three kills and an ace from senior Marley Hanzel. Though Wheelersburg was able to cut the deficit to 23-22, that’s as close as they would come in the fourth game. Hagen Schaefer stopped the streak with a kill, and Lexi Smith clinched the set with a block to force a fifth and final game.
Neither team seemed able to take control in the fifth set. The Pirates and Titans were never separated by more than two points in the deciding game.
Notre Dame seemed poised to put it away after Lexi Smith recorded her final kill of the night to give the Titans a 12-11 lead. But Hanzel answered right back with two monster kills of her own, one of which barely snuck inside the line.
After a timeout, the Titans were able to catch a break when a Pirate spike went just long, ending one of the longest volleys of the night. But after Hanzel came up with yet another kill, the Pirates were just one point away from taking the match with a 14-13 lead.
But that’s when junior Emma Monroe came to the rescue.
Her kill tied the score at 14, and forced the fifth game into a tiebreaker. After the teams traded points, Monroe stepped behind the service line with the score tied at 15. Both of her serves were true, and Ragen Kayser came up with back-to-back kills to clinch the Titans’ biggest win of the season.
“We practiced this weekend and we worked on discipline,” Glockner said. “The difference between us last night and us against Wheelersburg was discipline. That’s it. Bottom line.”
Monday’s match continued a rough patch in Wheelersburg’s season. Last week, the Pirates were flying high with an 8-0 record. But a three-game loss to Waverly last Thursday has put Wheelersburg in a slump, and the Pirates have now dropped three of their last four matches.
“We were gelling, but that tough loss to Waverly…we’re just trying to fight through adversity and get back to where we were,” Wheelersburg head coach Kendra Coleman said.
Wheelersburg may simply just be burnt out after having played 10 matches in the span of 13 days. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, as they will play West on Tuesday and Valley on Thursday before facing off with Unioto and Washington Court House in a tri-match on Saturday.
“We need to get back in the gym, do some conditioning and work on some basic skill techniques,” Coleman said. “It’s just fighting through adversity and overcoming obstacles. If you keep on knocking on that door, it will eventually come down.”
As a first-year coach, Glockner hopes that a win over one of the area’s top programs will foster her young team’s confidence down the stretch.
“I have so much respect for coach Coleman and the Wheelersburg program. Playing a match like this only makes us both better, and it’s so great to have this community matchup,” Glockner said. “It definitely gives us a boost, but we’re a week to week team, game to game. We have East next, so we’re going to do whatever we have to do for East.”
The Titans and Tartans will have off on Tuesday evening in Sciotoville.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter