Hartley High School girls volleyball coach Mike Rahe has believed all along that whichever team won the Heath regional championship would be the favorite to capture the Division II state title.
This weekend, the Hawks will have an opportunity to show whether that idea stands up when they compete in the state tournament at Wright State's Nutter Center.
The last three times Hartley competed at the state tournament, it left with a trophy of some sort, earning the program's only championship in 2011 and finishing as runner-up in 2014 and '16.
After having their season end in a Division I district semifinal last season, the Hawks went back down to Division II.
They will play Mentor Lake Catholic in a state semifinal at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, with the winner facing Parma Heights Holy Name or Middletown Fenwick in the state final at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10.
Hartley has made six previous state tournament appearances.
"A huge factor to our success so far has been our team's passion and drive to compete every time we step on the court," senior outside and right-side hitter Kayla Malone said. "We hold each other accountable and play at a very high level for one another, which allows us to be very successful."
Lake Catholic is just 16-11 but had each of its past two seasons end in state semifinals. The Cougars beat Gates Mills Gilmour Academy 25-19, 25-21, 25-23 in a regional final Nov. 3 at Stow-Munroe Falls.
In the regional at Heath, Hartley defeated Jonathan Alder 28-26, 18-25, 25-23, 25-9 in a semifinal Nov. 1 and Gnadenhutten Indian Valley 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-18 in the final Nov. 3 to improve to 21-6.
Fenwick won a state title in 2010 but is making its first state appearance since 2015. Holy Name's only other state appearance came in 1982.
Lake Catholic is led by outside hitter Ashley Browske, who averages 4.1 kills and 4.1 digs per set. Ainslie McLaughlin is a 6-foot-2 middle hitter with 97 blocks on the season and setter Katy Yopko averages seven assists per set.
"They've been (at state) for the last (two) years, so they're always a great program," Rahe said. "They play an amazing schedule up north. They've got a couple good hitters, defensively they're good and they try to speed it up when they can."
Fenwick improved to 21-5 with a 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, 16-25, 16-7 win over St. Bernard Roger Bacon in a regional final Nov. 3 at Vandalia Butler, while Holy Name is 24-3 after beating Willard 25-20, 25-21, 25-23 in a regional final Nov. 3 at Lexington.
With senior middle hitter Chia Nwokolo battling through a minor injury during the regional final, the Hawks got strong play against Indian Valley from senior libero Ashley Tipton and sophomores Katie Hueser (outside hitter) and Colleen Sweeney (setter/right-side hitter), according to Rahe.
Senior right-side and outside hitter Alexa Wilson served six consecutive points in the fourth set as the Hawks went from being down 13-11 to being ahead 17-13.
"Sweeney had a great (match) delivering the ball and had a couple good swings, actually ending the fourth set with a kill," Rahe said. "Ashley Tipton brought us back in the first two sets with her serving and Katie Hueser was just scrappy as all get out defensively. She really gave us some big lifts with her defensive play."