By Josh Brown
TROY — Tippecanoe had its chance against the five-time defending division champion.
But Troy has plenty of practice at fighting off challengers to the throne.
Four Trojans had 10 or more kills as Troy, needing a win to clinch its sixth consecutive division crown, built a 2-0 lead, only to watch it evaporate as Tippecanoe fought back to tie the match and force a fifth game. But Troy, playing in its third five-setter this season, jumped out in front and held off the Red Devils to win the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North championship with 25-22, 25-13, 18-25, 20-25, 15-7 victory Tuesday night at the Trojan Activities Center.
For the Trojans — who improved to 17-4 and 14-0 in GWOC American North play, extending its division winning streak to 49 games — it was all about one thing.
“It came down to a little bit of pride,” Troy coach Michelle Owen said. “I told them that the ball is in your court now. We’ve taught you the things we need to teach you, and we’d prepared. You have to find a way now to score and defend better than you’re doing — and in Set 5, they did.
“We’ve played two five-setters this year that I think helped us. We’ve been in that situation before. Against Versailles, we got down 8-2 and still came back and won Set 5. We talked about relying on that experience and trying to find a way to shift the momentum back. We came back over here on our home side, tried to use our students to get a little energy — and prayed.”
Troy had swept its way through division play this season — the last time the Trojans lost a set to a division opponent was in last year’s five-set win over the Red Devils on Oct. 11, 2016. And for Tippecanoe, which finished the regular season 17-5 and 13-2 in the GWOC American North, the best chance came in the very first set.
Lauren Schmitz had served the Trojans out to an 8-4 lead with a six-point run, but the Devils hung around long enough for Audrey Trick to put together a six-point run of her own that gave Tippecanoe a 20-17 lead. But a kill by Carly Pfeiffer put an end to the run, and the Troy sophomore added two more kills as the Trojans went on an 8-2 run to close and take a 1-0 lead.
“The bottom line was, we had the chance to be able to do exactly what we wanted to do, how we had planned,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “We just didn’t execute at a critical moment. That first game, 20-17, we have the serve, then they score eight points and we score two. If Game 1 occurs like it was supposed to, there’s no Game 5. It’s over in four.”
After Set 2, it looked like it’d be over in three. A six-point service run capped off by back-to-back aces by Kearston Riley gave Troy an 11-4 lead, and Camryn Moeller finished the game with five straight points. But in the third game, Tippecanoe’s Brooke Aselage served the Devils out to a 7-3 lead, and they were able to finish off the game from there. And Set 4 was more of the same as the Devils got out to an early lead and rode the hitting of Cali Stewart and Natalie Seeman to a win and into a decisive fifth game.
“We came out in Set 1 a little tight,” Owen said. “We fixed some things late in the set, and moving into Set 2 we made some adjustments and started playing the way we wanted to play. After that set, I felt pretty confident — and I felt like the girls almost got overconfident and were playing really casual, like they thought Tipp would just roll over. And we talked about that, that it was a big match and that they were going to play better. They came out in Set 3 firing, and we could never really regain that momentum.”
“Looking at a team going down two games, you’d think they’re done. They’re over,” Garcia said. “After that second set, we looked completely disorganized, Troy was putting their tempo on us — and then the magic wand happened, and the girls started doing what they were supposed to. And the game changed. And we have best right side in the conference in Natalie Seeman.”
The fifth game, however, was all Troy.
Kills by Schmitz and Brianna Slusher and a big block by Slusher staked the Trojans out to a 5-1 lead. A block by Pfeiffer kept Troy rolling, though, and a thunderous block by Moeller got the Trojans even more fired up and made the score 9-3. Alexa Holland served Troy to 14-6 with three straight points, and a service error on match point by the Devils finished the match.
Moeller had 16 kills, four aces and 20 digs, Schmitz had 14 kills, three aces, three blocks and 17 digs, Pfeiffer had 12 kills and nine blocks and Slusher had 10 kills, six blocks and five digs to lead Troy. Kate Orban added five kills, an assist, two blocks and two digs, Payton Riley had two kills, a block and a dig and Alexa Holland had a kill and an assist to go with her 32 digs. Dana Wynkoop had 51 assists, two blocks, seven digs and an ace and Kearston Riley had three aces and eight digs.
“You’ve got to give credence to coach Owen. She always gets the best out of her players,” Garcia said. “We got down 5-1 in that fifth game, and it was unforced errors, which has been our weakness this season. Every team we’ve played this season, we’ve had more kills and blocks. Offensively, we are really good. We just have to bring down those unforced errors.”
Stewart had 15 kills and two blocks, Seeman had 13 kills and Rachel Wildermuth had eight kills, four blocks and four aces to lead the Devils. Isabel Crow had 40 assists, Abby Hughes had 20 digs, Trick had 14 digs and three aces and Aselage had three aces.
Tippecanoe finished second in the American North for the second straight year since joining the GWOC. Its next match is its sectional tournament opener against Belmont Oct. 18 at Tecumseh.
Troy, meanwhile, will look to finish the regular season with its 50th straight division win Wednesday at rival Piqua before the postseason begins.
“It’s cool. It’s good for the girls,” Owen said of the team’s sixth straight outright title. “We told the girls that tonight wouldn’t change whether or not we were league champs, but to split it with Tipp would’ve been different. And we had to work for this one tonight. They had to come out and play their butts off in that fifth set.”
And with that, the Trojans get to sit on the throne for one more year.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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