PORTSMOUTH — Jon Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer blared out — between games — over the speakers inside Notre Dame High School’s gymnasium on Thursday.
However, the Titans needed no prayers —nor any luck —as they simply squashed the South Gallia Rebels in a Division IV volleyball sectional championship tilt.
Trailing for only seven points over all three games, the fourth-seeded Titans easily swept 13th-seeded South Gallia 25-6, 25-9 and 25-16 to capture their eighth consecutive sectional title — and an amazing 11th in the last 12 years.
In fact, after their first sectional crown came clear back in 1987 —and starting with their second in 2003 — only in 2006 thru 2008 and again in 2012 has Notre Dame not reached the district semifinal round.
As for this season’s district semifinals, Notre Dame does in fact host that match — as the Titans tangle with 12th-seeded Paint Valley, which swept host and fifth-seeded Peebles 25-13, 25-16 and 25-14 for another Division IV sectional final.
With the victory, the Titans take their record to 14-4, as Thursday’s match was their first in a full week — with their Southern Ohio Conference Division I sweep of Green being their most recent.
That was last Thursday, and their next match won’t be until next Thursday (Oct. 29) —and the district semi against the visiting Bearcats.
An SOC I affair against East will not be made up, so the Titans (11-0 SOC I) officially complete a second consecutive season of going undefeated in the division — a streak of at least 25 games.
Following last week’s win against Green, and looking ahead to this week’s bout against South Gallia, Notre Dame coach Cassidy Roney emphasized the importance of taking the underdog Rebels seriously.
They did just that, and almost made it all three sets of not allowing double digits in points for the seven-lady Lady Rebels.
With Notre Dame leading wire-to-wire in the third game, and building a 20-9 advantage before beginning substitutions of its regular rotation, South Gallia gained five straight points to get within 23-16 — but back-to-back Titan kills ended it after an hour of play.
Indeed, South Gallia was undermanned — and overwhelmed.
“We didn’t know anything about South Gallia going into this game. No statistics online or anything. We knew absolutely nothing other than who they beat and who they lost to. It was a worry of mine that they (Titans) would take it as us being the higher seed it would automatically be an easy game and come out and play flat. But we did a really good job of playing as hard as we could and not worrying about the score,” explained Roney. “We were up 15 points, and we were still playing just as hard as if we were up by one.”
The only times the Titans led by one was the 1-0 leads in the first and third games, sandwiched around 4-3 and 7-6 edges in the second.
They breezed through the opener 25-6, as the only Rebel points came courtesy of three kills and three Titan errors —one of hitting, one of attack and one of service.
South Gallia gained leads of 2-0 and 6-4 —amid ties of 2-2, 3-3, 4-4 and 6-6 —but the Titans truly took over from there, and it was all downhill for the Rebels.
Notre Dame erupted to win 21 of the final 24 set points, and kept South Gallia in single totals for the second consecutive set.
“The first two sets we kept them (Rebels) to under 10. After the first set, I wanted to keep them under 10 again, to motivate them (Titans) and keep their effort up and not let up,” revealed Roney.
Ava Hassel, the senior setter who led the way with a match-high 10 kills, hit heavy in the late stages of the opening two sets — and ended the second game with her three aces.
She set for 13 assists, as fellow seniors Claire Detwiller and Chloe Delabar delivered eight kills apiece —with Annie Detwiller dropping down five.
Hassel hits, sets, serves and returns volleys all well — and regularly stuffs the stat sheet as a result.
“Ava has stepped up this year, and this is her first season as the setter. She has never set before. Ever. But last year, she kind of knew this was something she would have to do this year. She is also one of our stronger hitters, one of our strongest players all around in every category. I didn’t want her to just have one specific role,” said Roney. “The 6-2 offense allows Ava to set and hit, and she does a really good job at both. She is our first server for every game, and our strongest rotation is the one where she serves. She really helps us a lot and has really stepped up and filled big roles that we lost from last year. She wasn’t either an outside hitter or a setter before.”
Hassel hit right side and played in the back row, which she still does, and accounted for eight digs on Thursday along with Annie Detwiller.
Detwiller, the other setter in Notre Dame’s 6-2 offense, led in assists with 18.
Madison Brown had half-a-dozen digs, while libero Mallory Boland chipped in five digs with nine serve receptions.
While the Titans put down the Rebels on Thursday, the competition becomes much tougher next week —as Notre Dame goes for its sixth all-time district championship, and fifth in a row following its only other in 2014.
Of Notre Dame’s four losses, three have come against the quality Scioto Valley Conference —albeit being Division III programs in Adena, Huntington and Southeastern.
The Bearcats are the smallest school in the SVC, and — like South Webster in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II — are always playing up.
The Jeeps, which handed Notre Dame its only other defeat, could be waiting for the Titans in the district finals —should ND defeat Paint Valley.
The Titans toppled the Bearcats in last season’s tournament —a sweep in the sectional finals.
And indeed, while luck — and even prayers — weren’t necessary against South Gallia, it will be nice to have some more the deeper the Titans advance.
Match time for the district semifinal is set for Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We played Paint Valley last year and they were a really good team,” said Roney. “And it will be nice to be playing them at home.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved