By Josh Brown
TROY — When Troy got behind 7-0 to start the second set of the Troy Invitational volleyball tournament’s championship match against Kenton Ridge, it didn’t panic. The Trojans knew there was still one more chance.
When they fell behind 7-0 and later 11-1 in the third set, they knew something had to be done.
That thing turned out to be getting the ball to Katie DeMeo.
Troy’s senior middle hitter had seven kills — four in a row at one point — and two blocks during the team’s furious third-set rally, and the Trojans (7-1) made big plays down the stretch to knock the Cougars’ two most dangerous servers off the line before they could do any more damage to win 25-19, 20-25, 25-22 in the final match of the Troy Invitational Saturday at the Trojan Activities Center.
After Troy, which swept Graham in the semifinal match to get to the final, coasted through the first game, Kenton Ridge’s Peyton Fleming served the Cougars out to 7-0 leads in both Games 2 and 3, racking up five aces total during those runs. And while Troy rallied by winning nine of the final 12 points in the second game, Cougar libero Dakota White added three more serves in a row early in Game 3 to put the Trojans down 11-1 before DeMeo even got on the floor.
“I don’t start first. I’m out for two rotations, so when we get off to a rough start like that, when I come in I try to get everyone excited to be playing,” DeMeo said. “I think when I get kills, the team gets excited and it really helps to pick up the team.
“We didn’t want to lose our own invitational. We just had to be excited to play.”
A kill by Camryn Moeller from the back row gave the serve to Kearston Riley and DeMeo put away the next four straight points, both taking sets from newly-returned-from-injury setter Dana Wynkoop and also jumping on mishandled returns off of Riley’s serve. Suddenly Troy was back in the game at 11-6, but Kenton Ridge answered with a pair of point to go back up by seven.
After an error by the Cougars, Wynkoop served the next five points, with Moeller adding another tough back-row kill and DeMeo running off two kills and two blocks. On the final point of the run, DeMeo blocked a ball at the net that rolled along the chord and fell — just inside the line to cut the lead to 13-12.
“They had no answer for her at that point,” Troy coach Michelle Owen said of DeMeo. “We were setting her a little off the net, and she could really just elevate over the top of their blocker and find that open court deep. She put a ton of balls with a foot and a half of the end line, which is really a tough ball to dig.
“We went through stretches where a lot of different people struggled at different times. It was hard to find that person to go to, so I was happy that Katie was able to provide that stability for us. And really Gabbi (Johnson) did too in the middle. She didn’t have a ton of errors, scored when we needed her to and finished with four blocks. That’s huge for her, too.”
“When you’re down, you know you need to put the ball away,” DeMeo said. “The team looks to me and Camryn and Miranda (Silcott) to put the ball away. It’s awesome, especially when you’re down by that many. You know you have to go on a run, and those points are so much more important.”
The Cougars (8-2) remained stubborn, though, putting together two three-point strings and still holding a 20-14 lead late. But Moeller put down two kills during a five-point service run by Katie Jackson — a run capped off by Jackson dropping an ace on the back line to even the score at 20-20.
Kenton Ridge took a 21-20 lead — putting Fleming back on the service line once again. But Johnson put down a kill to keep her from getting rolling, and after another side-out, Silcott hit a kill from the back row to knock White off the service line and keep the score tied at 22-22.
“We just couldn’t find a way to score those points,” Owen said of when either Fleming or White served. “We moved our rotation around, switched our lineup, but when our best passer Camryn is struggling to get a ball to target, that puts us in a really tough spot. But we really connected at the end.
“We got our passing under control. All of our subs really did a good job going in and taking some pressure off our primary passers. Caroline (Pratt) went in and did a good job for just enough balls to give those kids a break, and same thing with Kearston. With Victoria (Holland) still out, that limits our options, but those kids went in and really did a good job taking some pressure off our shoulders by stepping up, not getting aced and putting up playable balls.”
Riley took the serve, and Kenton Ridge was called for a double to give Troy its first lead since Game 1 at 23-22. The Cougars then couldn’t return a tough serve by Riley in three to give the Trojans a match point — and DeMeo fittingly put it away with a kill to finish things off.
“It feels great,” DeMeo said. “We’ve won it every year except my freshman year. So I think it was really important that, senior year, to win our own invitational — especially with six of us seniors leaving. It’s an amazing feeling.”
“It was a freaking war,” Owen said with a laugh. “We really had to fight for this one. Give credit to Kenton Ridge. This was a good test for us, and it was obviously important to win — especially for seeding purposes at the end of the year. Every win is important.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.