Katie Duy was on the bench trying to raise the spirits of her Olentangy Orange High School girls volleyball team after it lost the opening set of a Division I regional final to Liberty on Nov. 3 at Worthington Kilbourne.
However, the fourth-year coach didn't need words of inspiration to jump-start the Pioneers. Instead, she watched as her seniors took the reins.
Orange would go on to lose to the Patriots 31-29, 21-25, 25-17, 13-25, 15-13 in a marathon match that lasted 1 hour, 52 minutes.
"This is an extremely competitive group and that's when the seniors stepped in and kind of took over," said Duy, whose team finished 21-6 overall and reached its first regional final. "They were like, 'we have been in this position before and we know what to do,' and that gave the younger kids confidence going out there."
In the fifth set, Liberty trailed Orange 7-4, 8-5, 10-7 and 11-8 before finally seizing the momentum.
"It was a battle," Duy said. "They're a great team. They played a great match and give a lot of credit to them. We made some adjustments and a couple balls went their way and they finished it off."
Senior outside hitter Taylor Metzler said it was special being a part of the first class to play four seasons under Duy.
"We're the first group of kids to come through here with coach Duy, and we all know what it takes to win," Metzler said. "She brought in a culture that you play for each other and you have to work for everything you get."
Seeded fourth for the district tournament, the Pioneers captured their third consecutive district championship by defeating 13th-seeded Watkins Memorial 25-19, 20-25, 25-15, 25-15 on Oct. 27 at Whitehall.
They finished second (8-2) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Liberty (10-0), ending a streak of three consecutive league championships.
The Pioneers had six seniors in middle blocker Sidney Gossard, right-side hitter Brooke Little, defensive specialist Megan McCollum, Metzler, setter Carrigan O'Reilly and outside hitter Meara Reeder.
O'Reilly missed the first three weeks of the season, totaling six matches, and was replaced at setter by freshman Hanna Borer. O'Reilly still earned second-team all-state and first-team all-district and all-league honors by compiling 329 assists, 145 digs, 105 kills and 44 blocks.
Gossard (honorable mention all-league) led the Pioneers in blocks (85) and had 122 kills, and McCollum (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) had a team-high 414 digs along with 30 aces. Metzler added 177 kills and 52 blocks.
"In four years, we have gone from 10 wins (in the first season) to 21 wins in each of the next three seasons, three district titles and three conference titles," Duy said. "Our seniors bought into everything their freshman year and made things easy on the coaching staff. They set the example and everyone followed them."
Sophomore outside hitter London Davis (second-team all-district, first-team all-league) had a team-high 275 kills along with 44 blocks. Junior right-side hitter Madison Moll had 157 kills and 79 blocks, and Borer had team highs in assists (468) and aces (48) and had 158 digs.
Sophomore middle blocker Tazmin Appiah had 97 kills and 79 blocks, and sophomore defensive specialist Addie Evans had 261 digs and 33 aces.
"We have three sophomores on varsity -- London, Tazmin and Addie -- all played well (in the regional final)," Duy said. "Madison and (defensive specialists) Nina (Marin) and Maya (Hendricks) are juniors coming back. They have been here before and they are seasoned now. They have seen what they can do and what that next step is, but it should make them work harder."