BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — Maumee’s volleyball team bent but didn’t break while capturing its first district championship since 2003 with a 3-2 victory over No. 4 Central Catholic at Ottawa-Glandorf on October 24.
“All year it’s been about resiliency,” said Panthers coach Lindsay Vannett. “We’re a resilient team. We don’t let other teams overpower us. We fight back. We’ve been in those situations during the regular season and they know what it takes to win in those situations. I’m proud of everything they’ve done to this point.”
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, Maumee found itself knotted up with the Fighting Irish at 21-21 during the evening’s third set.
Facing elimination, Central responded with two straight points on assists from senior Sydney Alford and junior Addison Galernik and kills by senior Madisin Hill and freshman Kamryn Hunt.
The Panthers twice clawed their way back to within a mere point as the set wound down, but the Fighting Irish eventually forced a fourth set on an assist from Galernik to Hill.
Riding on its newfound momentum, Central dominated the fourth frame.
Maumee junior setter Brynn Brown totaled five assists, three kills and a block in the set and sophomore outside hitter Jolie Sobb posted five kills, but the Irish were not to be deterred.
Alford shined for Central on defense, while Galernik and Hill led the squad’s offense to a comfortable 25-13 win that forced the fifth set.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re two sets up or two sets down – you have to play every point like it’s the last point,” Vannett said. “We didn’t focus on that as much in the third or fourth.”
The eighth-year Panthers coach made a lineup adjustment before that final set by moving Maumee’s rotation up for a better matchup in the front row – a move that paid off.
The Panthers’ Brown, Sobb, senior defensive specialist Chloe Bunce, junior libero Beth Brady and freshman setter Camy Wedge initially battled the Fighting Irish’s Galernik, Hill, senior Autumn Michalak and junior Emily Coop to a 6-6 tie before Maumee took the night’s final lead on an assist from Wedge to Brown.
Panthers freshman middle blocker Katelyn Owens followed with a pair of timely aces to give her team a 9-6 advantage.
After next committing a serving error, Maumee came back to score three more consecutive points on an ace, an assist and a kill by Brown, another assist from Wedge and another Sobb kill.
“I think we really brought the energy in the fifth set,” Brown said. “The energy kind of got sucked to the other side of the court, so to bring it back on our side was a huge swing. We needed to come through big and I think everyone just stepped up their game.”
“We knew what was at stake in that last set, so we definitely had a lot more energy,” she said.
Now trailing 12-7, Central scored its final point on a kill by junior Brianna Jaquez before the Panthers put the match away on three sequential plays – an assist from Brown to senior middle blocker Jessica Perrault, an assist from Sobb to senior opposite side hitter Ashlee Arndt and an assist from Brown to Sobb.
“I think we kind of lost focus in the middle of the match,” Brown said. “Once we regained our focus in that fifth set, we got back to doing the little things and came through with the big win.”
“We were all really hyped for the match tonight,” Sobb said. “We all just wanted to win. Our main goal for this season was to make it to regionals and we achieved that tonight.”
The match originally began with Maumee’s Brady, Brown, Sobb and Wedge fighting the Fighting Irish’s Alford, Galernik and Michalak to an immediate 5-5 tie before Central Catholic opened up a 16-10 lead on additional offensive plays by Coop, Duckett, Galernik and Hill.
Brady, Brown, Owens, Perrault, Sobb and Wedge helped the Panthers to come back and tie things up at 22-22, 23-23 and 24-24 before a pair of Fighting Irish hitting errors gave Maumee a 1-0 match advantage.
The opposing teams played to six more ties to start the second set, as Arndt, Brown, Owens and Wedge and Central Catholic’s Coop, Duckett, Galernik and Hunt eventually found themselves tied at 11-11.
A fighting Irish hitting violation then put the Panthers back on top, though, and Brown followed up with a pair of aces.
Maumee not only kept its lead from there, but also added to it.
Arndt, Brady, Brown, Perrault, Sobb and Wedge went on to increase the Panthers’ advantage to four points before another Central violation gave Maumee a 25-20 win and a 2-0 match lead.
Brown led the Panthers to victory by racking up 23 digs, 20 kills, 18 assists, five aces and a block.
“The kids respect Brynn and she was probably the most vocal leader out there tonight,” Vannett said. “She was not afraid to huddle the girls up. She was talking to everyone on the floor and they really responded to her.”
Brown said that she felt like a “second coach on the court.”
“My teammates believe in me, so it’s always nice to be in that leadership role,” she added.
Sobb added 22 kills, 10 digs and an assist.
“I think Jolie has really stepped up this year,” Brown said. “Playing six rotations is hard if you haven’t done it before, so for her to step up, be able to pick up her defense and get some huge kills for us really takes some of the load off my shoulders and off everyone else’s shoulders. We always have Jolie to look to.”
Vannett said Sobb knows there is pressure on her.
“She knows she’s one of our go-to players and she can handle that pressure,” she added.
“There is some pressure that comes with it, but you just have to know how to handle it,” she said. “I think it’s amazing that my setters know they can always count on me.”
Wedge totaled another 21 assists, eight digs and a kill, Brady recorded 12 digs, eight assists and two aces and Bunce notched 13 digs, two aces and an assist.
Additionally, Arndt contributed five blocks, five kills and two digs, Owens had five kills, three blocks, two digs and two aces, Perrault chipped in four blocks and four kills and junior opposite side hitter Maddie Kontak finished with an assist, a block, a dig and a kill.
Galernik paced the Fighting Irish with 41 assists and two aces, Hill added nine kills and two blocks and Hunt posted 14 kills.
In addition, Duckett had 11 kills and two aces, Coop managed nine kills and two blocks and Michalak ended up with three blocks and three kills, despite the loss.
Maumee improved to 19-7 with the win – the program’s second-best record in at least 18 years.
The Panthers will next advance to their first regional tournament since Brown’s mom Gretchen coached her 2003 team to the state semifinals. That team finished at 22-7.
When asked if it made it more special knowing that her mom’s team was the last Maumee team to accomplish this feat, Brown said, “Definitely.”
“I think I was actually born that year,” she said with a smile. “I always want to beat my mom, so if we could go further than her – that would be great.”
So, what is it about this year’s team that has enabled it to enjoy the program’s most success in 17 years?
“I don’t think people realize how disciplined we are,” Brown said. “We work hard in practice every day and still focus on tedious things like footwork and technique. I think that’s coming through. So, when we get tired in matches and our legs aren’t working as well as they could – we still have the technique to make good passes and good swings.”
Sobb added, “We definitely have a tighter bond,” she said. “We have a lot of well-rounded players and we work together very well. We just know how to come together in the end.”
The Panthers will next square off with the defending state champions when they play Parma Heights’ Holy Name at 6:00 p.m. on Halloween night at Lexington High School.
“They won the state last year, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they’re doing this year,” Vannett said. “They are not much different than we are. The pressure is more on them than it is on us. We have nothing to lose. We just have to play our game and keep focusing in on our side and let the rest take care of itself.”
Though they might be looked at as the underdogs due to Holy Name’s past accomplishments, both Brown and Sobb believe in their team.
“I think we’re capable of going all the way,” Brown said. “Everyone on the team has a role this year, so if everyone does their part, I think we’ll end up making it pretty far in the tournament.”
Sobb had the same opinion.
“I think we’re capable of going all the way,” Sobb said. “Why not?”