Alex McLane was ready for his prime-time moment.
The junior outside hitter slammed down the kill that gave the St. Charles Preparatory School volleyball team its second Division II state championship with a 25-19, 14-25, 25-16, 28-26 victory over top-ranked Kettering Alter on June 3 at Capital University.
The second-ranked Cardinals finished 23-5 and avenged a 25-22, 19-25, 25-18 loss to the Knights on March 24 at Mount Vernon. It was their first championship since 2009 when they defeated Akron Hoban 25-16, 25-20, 25-19 in the final at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit.
“I just live for those moments like that,” said McLane, who had 11 kills in the match. “You work so hard and do everything you can just to get there, and then you’re in that moment.
“I love it when we are down in the score, everything is against you and no one thinks you’re going to do it. I want to show what we got and show our resilience. I live for those moments.”
The Cardinals showed that resilience in the fourth game, trailing 20-16 before rallying. At that point, coach Ned Gruber looked to his brother, assistant coach Joe Gruber, to discuss strategy for a possible fifth game.
“You have to be prepared, so Joe and I were figuring out whether to take (which) side (of the net) or serve for the fifth game,” said Ned Gruber, who was a senior all-state outside hitter when the Cardinals won the state title in 2009. “We prepare for moments like that in practice with a drill we call ‘speedball.’ It starts with a serve and then everyone does everything. There was one time (against Alter) where (senior) Andrew Dilley was out there setting and he’s a middle hitter. He never sets. It’s just a testament to our style and how hard our players work.”
Junior outside hitter Nathan Lancia said his team doesn’t get rattled when it falls behind. The teams were tied at 5 in the second game before the Knights scored 14 consecutive points to seize momentum.
“Our coaches do a great job of preparing us for when we get down like that,” said Lancia, who had 26 kills and two aces. “There’s one drill where we are down 24-17 and we have to come back and win. We practice like that all the time.”
Junior setter Jake Franz had 54 assists, junior middle hitter Jack Schumacher had eight kills and three blocks and Dilley had six kills and two aces.
The Knights, who won the last four state titles, finished 23-4.
“To beat the team that has won it the last four years is amazing and to be able to have so many fans here cheering us on helped a lot,” senior libero Kevin Gallagher said. “It’s amazing to go out like this in your final high school match. To finish it by winning with your teammates is amazing.”Division I
Cincinnati Moeller 3, Hilliard Darby 0
For the second consecutive year, Darby must settle for being the Division I state runner-up.
The Panthers lost to top-ranked Moeller 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 in the final June 3 at Capital after rallying to defeat Clayton Northmont 25-20, 21-25, 21-25, 27-25, 15-13 in a semifinal earlier in the day.
Darby, which won state championships in 2013 and 2015, lost to Cleveland St. Ignatius 25-18, 26-24, 25-19 in last year’s state final.
“We gave everything we had (against Northmont) to get into the championship (match) and Moeller had a great game plan and kept us out of system by routinely finding spots on the floor where we were struggling with our passing,” said Panthers coach Evan Bell, whose team finished 21-9. “That throws everything out of whack, makes the sets move and gives you trouble finding the hitters.”
Against Moeller, Collin Buelow had 14 kills and two blocks, Adam Ansel had 11 kills and three blocks and setter Noah Platfoot had two kills, four blocks and two aces.
“I thought Noah and Adam played very well, especially in the first two games,” Bell said. “But we kept falling behind and spending a lot of time and energy trying to catch back up.”
Moeller, which finished 26-1, led 20-13 in the first game before the Panthers pulled within 23-21, only to have a service error halt their rally. Darby trailed 19-15 in the second game but rallied to tie the score at 22 before the Crusaders scored the final three points. The Panthers trailed 10-5, 15-8 and 20-12 in the third game.
Darby, which was making its 13th consecutive state tournament appearance and 17th overall, watched a 20-15 lead in the second game against Northmont slip away, as the Thunderbolts scored 10 of the game’s final 11 points.
The Panthers staved off elimination in the fourth game by rallying from a 20-15 deficit to force a fifth game, in which they broke an 11-all tie and advanced to the championship match.