The storyline leading into the Big Walnut High School girls volleyball team's match against Granville in a Division II regional final had all the elements of a premier matchup.
Not only were the Golden Eagles and Blue Aces playing for a trip to the state tournament, but Granville had revenge on its mind after losing to Big Walnut 21-25, 25-21, 25-16 on Sept. 16.
The rematch Nov. 4 at Zanesville played out as expected in terms of intensity and toughness as the two teams battled for each point.
The Golden Eagles edged out victories in the third and fourth games to defeat the Blue Aces 25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23 to improve to 24-3 and deliver 28th-year coach Ron Lehman his first state appearance since 2010 and seventh overall.
"It was so close," outside hitter Kelsie Imertreijs said. "They wanted to beat us so badly. I loved that (match). Every single point we had to fight for, and it was so close in the first set that we ran out of subs."
The Golden Eagles, ranked seventh in the final state poll, faced second-ranked Kettering Alter in a state semifinal Nov. 10 at Wright State University. The winner played top-ranked Parma Padua Franciscan or 12th-ranked Mentor Lake Catholic in the state final Nov. 11 at WSU.
"Our kids did just a great job of battling, and Granville did, too," Lehman said. "Three of the four sets were decided by two points."
Setter Machaela Podraza led Big Walnut with 20 kills and added 29 assists. Imertreijs had 17 kills, libero Meredith Thomas had 31 digs and setter Sammi Bickley had 33 assists.
"Machaela played her best match of the year and really stepped up, and that was probably the difference," said Lehman, whose team was state runner-up in 2010 and 1991. "She was hitting the ball well down the line, and they couldn't handle that."
The Golden Eagles entered the state tournament on a 13-match winning streak after beginning the season 1-2. They reached the regional final with a 25-12, 24-26, 25-16, 25-22 victory over Dover in a semifinal Nov. 2 at Zanesville.
Podraza had nine kills and four aces, and Kaley Rammelsberg and Emma Urhammer added eight and seven kills, respectively.
"You're excited for a group that's worked so hard, and it's great to see their excitement and their sense of accomplishment," Lehman said.
Girls soccer season ends in state semifinal
The girls soccer team made history this season behind a stout defense.
The Golden Eagles won their first regional championship before falling to Cincinnati Indian Hill 4-0 in a Division II state semifinal Nov. 7 at Kettering Fairmont to finish 16-3-4 overall. Indian Hill scored two goals in the first 6 minutes.
"This team was very special," sixth-year coach Drew Pitzer said. "This team had something that we haven't had in the past. I don't know what it is. It's that 'it' factor that nobody can put into words. This team just had an attitude and identity that we haven't had in the past and 'OK' wasn't good enough."
The Golden Eagles finished with 16 shutouts behind sophomore goalkeeper Payton Carter, senior defender Kaitlin Meade, junior defenders Erin Boehm and Rylee Bussen and freshman defender Morgan Bodker.
Big Walnut's trek to its first appearance in a state semifinal began Oct. 16 with an 18-0 win over 16th-seeded Whitehall in the first round of the district tournament. The second-seeded Golden Eagles then defeated fifth-seeded Buckeye Valley 6-1 in a second-round game Oct. 19, seventh-seeded Hartley 3-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 24 and top-seeded Granville 1-0 in a shootout in the district final Oct. 28.
Big Walnut then beat Chillicothe Unioto 1-0 in a regional semifinal Oct. 31 behind a goal by sophomore forward Alexis Schone and routed New Philadelphia 8-0 in a regional final Nov. 4 behind three goals by junior forward Emily Neff.
The Golden Eagles finished third (3-1-1) in the OCC-Capital Division, behind Canal Winchester (4-0-1) and New Albany (3-0-2) and ahead of Newark (2-3), Groveport (1-4) and Franklin Heights (0-5).
Big Walnut is losing six seniors, led by forward Emma Padgett and Meade. Padgett was named first-team all-league and Meade was second-team all-league.
Expected to return are Boehm, Bodker, Bussen, Carter, Neff, Schone, juniors Grace Bodker (midfielder), Alle English (forward/midfielder) and Adelee Gartner (midfielder) and sophomores Avery Schone (midfielder) and Alyssa Tarney (defender).
Gartner scored the decisive goal in the shootout against Granville.
Rylee Bussen was first-team all-league, Avery Schone made second-team all-league, Alexis Schone was special mention all-league and Morgan Bodker was honorable mention all-league.
"I couldn't be prouder of a group of girls in all the years I've been coaching," Pitzer said. "I've never seen a team battle as hard as this team has or one that is more deserving of breaking history. I'm glad I was along for the ride."
Borland finishes 59th at state meet
Sophomore Colbi Borland of the girls cross country team competed in her first Division I state meet Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway, finishing 59th of 173 runners in 19 minutes, 14.5 seconds.
Troy's Morgan Gigandet won the title in 17:30.9.
"We're real proud and pleased (of Borland)," coach Kevin Lewis said. "She was on the top third. It was a good run. I think I only counted 23 or so underclassmen ahead of her, so it looks really good for the future."
Borland advanced to state by finishing 18th (19:07.1) of 129 runners in the regional meet Oct. 28 at Pickerington North.
Big Walnut finished 16th (394 points) of 17 teams at regional, behind champion Granville (63).
Also competing for the Golden Eagles were senior Hannah Wilson (84th, 20:55), sophomore Alina Pecci (106th, 21:32.43), junior Ruthann Armbrust (113th, 21:57.07), senior Leksi Murnieks (122nd, 22:35.09), sophomore Chloe McKenzie (124th, 22:35.74) and junior Hannah Moroz (127th, 23:13.11).
Big Walnut earned the sixth and final qualifying spot in the 18-team district 3 meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial and finished second (46) in the OCC-Capital meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster, behind New Albany (40) and ahead of Canal Winchester (56), Newark (109) and Groveport (126).
Borland won her second consecutive league title in 20:26.75.
The boys team ended its season in the district 2 meet, where it finished 13th (378) of 17 teams, behind champion Pickerington North (56).
Senior Jacob Hutchinson finished 55th (17:42.72) of 119 runners to lead the Golden Eagles.
Also scoring were sophomore Jacob Krous (65th, 17:53.11), seniors Kaleb Disbennett (82nd, 18:21.11) and Will Hefner (86th, 18:26.06) and sophomore Austin Stewart (90th, 18:41.06).
Big Walnut finished fourth (102) in the OCC-Capital meet, behind Newark (31), New Albany (35) and Canal Winchester (79) and ahead of Groveport (121).
"They ran close to their ability," Lewis said. "We didn't have huge expectations, but they ran well. We have four out of our top seven returning."