At least three DeSales girls volleyball players and coach Brenden Pence agreed that the moment they realized the Division I state championship was attainable was not after one of its 27 wins, but rather after its second and final loss.
"I think we can all agree it was when we lost to Hartley," senior setter Bella D'Amico said of a 24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 15-10 setback to the Hawks on Sept. 19 that cost the Stallions an undefeated CCL championship. "It was the last CCL (match) of the season and we went in thinking we had it all. We'd swept them the first time at our place (25-17, 25-20, 25-14 on Sept. 10). They played lights out and beat us in five and after that we said, 'No more of this. It's now or never.' And we didn't lose again. ...
"I think we needed that. That's what Padua didn't have."
DeSales finished the season on a 15-match winning streak, including a 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 upset of nationally ranked Parma Padua in the state final Nov. 9 at Wright State.
Senior outside hitter Emma Brown had 17 kills and senior outside hitter/middle blocker Maryanne Boyle added 16 for the Stallions, who won the program's second state championship and were appearing in the final for the first time since winning the Class AA title in 1982.
D'Amico, a Georgia Tech commit, added 43 assists and 18 digs, junior defensive specialist Bridget Javitch had 28 digs and sophomore defensive specialist/outside hitter Gabby D'Amico added 19 digs.
The match included 23 ties and 12 lead changes.
Padua ended the first game on a 4-0 run after DeSales pulled within 21-19, but the Stallions went toe-to-toe thereafter with the Bruins, who had lost only nine games all year entering the final.
Boyle had six kills in the third game to help put the Stallions in control.
Padua, which entered the match at 28-0 and ranked first in the nation by USA Today and fifth by MaxPreps, was seeking its fifth championship overall and third in four years. The Bruins were at state for the ninth time, one more than DeSales.
"We played at a good rate (in the first game), but we just lost our composure a couple times," Pence said. "We were rallying, but we lost track of our game plan, so we went back to the serving and passing that second set. We had to be fearless and relentless. We had nothing to lose. We swung to win and that made a big difference for us."
The Stallions' championship was the 33rd state title in school history.
"I'm still shaking. It's not real," Boyle said during a press conference about 20 minutes after the final. "We did that."
D'Amico, a first-team all-state selection, had 71 assists in two state tournament matches. DeSales advanced to the final with a 25-10, 25-18, 25-21 win over Solon in a semifinal Nov. 8 as Boyle and junior outside hitter Saje Washington each had eight kills. Junior middle blocker Avery Boyd had seven kills and Brown added six.
"(D'Amico) does a good job of knowing who is having a good day and who is having a bad day, so she has a feel for where to go," said Brown, a Robert Morris commit who was honorable mention all-state and led the team in kills this season with 291. "Everybody does their job and spreading the ball does not make it easy (for opponents)."
Boyle, a Providence commit, finished with 254 kills, ahead of Washington (178) and Boyd (133).
Boyd led the Stallions in blocks with 117.
D'Amico had 841 of the team's 1,025 assists and shared district Player of the Year honors with Olentangy Orange's London Davis. Brown also was first-team all-district.
Boyle, Brown and D'Amico all were first-team all-league. Javitch and Washington were second-team all-league.
Other players eligible to return include junior Brooke Stablein (defensive specialist) and sophomore Morgan Tydings (middle hitter/outside blocker). Tydings had 109 kills and 67 blocks and Stablein had 118 digs.
DeSales went 5-1 in the CCL to finish first, ahead of runner-up Watterson (4-2).
Last weekend was especially personal for Pence, who grew up in Beavercreek, only a few miles from Wright State, and whose wife, Logan, is an assistant coach. The team practiced at Beavercreek High School before both state matches.
"We've created our own noise and our own legacy," Pence said. "We've had some great wins. We preach just controlling the controllables. At the end of the day, that is all that matters."