By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — For a program that owns multiple state championships already — and in recent memory, as well — a semifinal match can be a dangerous prospect. The ultimate goal is to win it all, sure, but there’s that one last precarious step before reaching it.
The Miami East volleyball team is making its first trip back to the Division III state tournament since winning back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012. After being eliminated in the regional semifinal round the past two seasons, the Vikings will now face Gilmour Academy at 2 p.m. Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center in the state semifinal round.
And they will have to do so without looking ahead.
“I feel like that’s been the goal throughout the whole season — to get that one game at a time,” Miami East’s Jonni Parker said. “One step, win one game, move on to the next one, practice for that game the week before, start learning what they do next and move on.”
And when the whole team is on the same page, it isn’t as difficult.
“I’ve noticed every game we’ve had … say we have a game on Thursday, that whole week, the team will not stop talking about it,” Kyndall Hellyer said. “That Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in school, that’s all we all talk about is how excited we are for that next game.”
In the two seasons since their last state title, the Vikings have been eliminated in the regional semifinal round, both times by Versailles. In 2013, the Tigers won the state championship over Gilmour Academy, but last year they were eliminated in the semifinal round by the Lancers, who went on to fall to Huron in last year’s state title game.
In fact, Gilmour Academy is a perennial state runner-up. By the time the Vikings defeated them in four games for the title in 2011, the Lancers had already lost in the title game in 2008 and 2010. After Miami East swept Bishop Ready for the 2012 title, Gilmour lost to Versailles in five and Huron in four over the next two seasons.
Now the Vikings (23-4) — ranked No. 17 in the state’s final poll — know they will face their toughest challenge of the season in the No. 3 Lancers (24-3).
“We’ve been the underdogs in our past two games,” Lindsey Black said. “I’m not nervous for the game. I’m feeling good about it. I just want to make it to the state finals so bad. You just never know what can happen.
“I hope we play, that we come out and play the way we’ve been playing the last couple games. I’m really confident. We just need to come out and play the way we know we can.”
“We’ve all talked about going to state, going to state, going to state,” Carly Gump said. “But then again (assistant) coach (Dan) Peterson always tells us one play at a time, one set at a time, one match at a time. You’ve got to take it step by step first to get to those bigger games.”
And that was clear on Saturday in the regional final against Newark Catholic. The Vikings lost the first set 25-20 — only to come roaring back and dominate Game 2 25-15 en route to winning in four.
“We always say we have to do all the little things right,” Gump said. “Saturday, one of the reasons we lost that first set was because we weren’t doing those little things. In the second game, we picked it up and we got our game back.”
That step-by-step approach will be key, too, as undefeated No. 1 St. Henry (27-0) faces No. 9 Tuscarawas Valley (22-4) in the other semifinal matchup at noon, meaning the Vikings and Lancers will know who is awaiting the winner in Saturday’s state title game.
For some, there is added personal motivation to advance to Saturday’s game — as is the case with Reagan Morrett.
“My sister Allison (Morrett) played on the state champion teams. She may make it to watch us Saturday if we win on Thursday,” she said. “It’s going to make me want to push even harder.”
For every single one of Miami East’s players, though, the motivation is already there.
“As a sophomore, there was a lot of pressure, just because they wanted that third one so bad,” Emma Monnin said. “Last year, there was a lot of pressure, too. There’s always been pressure because of those two state titles. People are always like, ‘are they going to be as good as the state teams?’”
“There’s a lot of pressure to get another banner. It just takes a lot of hard work and the right attitude in practice every day,” Kati Runner said. “We’ve gone through a lot, a lot of injuries and different stuff this season. It’s just pushing through and working hard.”
And when it comes down to it, taking things one step at a time just comes naturally to the Vikings.
“It’s hard to look all the way to the final game. We’ve definitely got a lot of work to do still,” Runner said. “We’re not there yet, and we know that. These last couple days are going to have to be really hard practices, pushing for that, because we’ve still got to win this next game first.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.