By Josh Brown
TROY — With her team one point away from losing in Game 5, Troy senior Payton Riley knew what she had to do.
With the way things had been going for her lately, though, she didn’t know if she could.
“I knew that I was going to have to serve, and I was just so scared,” she said. “I’ve been having trouble with my serving — I haven’t been getting them in a lot. I was talking to myself back there, like ‘you can get this serve in. You can get this serve in.’”
But in the biggest moment the Trojans have faced all season, Riley came through.
Riley and fellow senior Alexa Holland led a Trojan service game that piled up a total of 30 aces against defending Division III state champion Versailles, with Riley ripping off three straight with the Tigers sitting on match point during the decisive fifth set to take the Troy volleyball team from one point away from losing to celebrating a 25-27, 25-12, 21-25, 25-12, 16-14 victory Saturday in front of a raucous crowd at the Trojans Activities Center.
After a Lindsey Winner block gave Versailles two match points with a 14-12 lead in the fifth set, the Trojans ran a play to get Riley a shot at a tip, and she put it in the right spot to give the serve back to Troy — and herself. Her first serve was close enough to the back line for the Tigers to make a play on it, but they couldn’t control it and the score was tied 14-14 after the ace.
“If their libero hadn’t touched my first serve, then it would have been out and they would have won the match,” Riley said. “But she did, so I just looked over at coach and gave her an ‘oh crap’ look. After that, I was just making sure I got my serves in. It was a really scary time.”
Two more Riley aces later, and the Trojan celebration was on.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Riley said. “Last year, I was injured when we played Versailles. After we won, I was just really glad I could be a part of it this year and help the team beat the defending state champions.”
“We ran a solid play, and I felt like if we could pass, then we could run that play, side out and it’s 14-13 and we’ve got a shot,” Troy coach Michelle Owen said. “Credit to Payton — I was so happy for her. She’s waited a really long time for her opportunity. She’s played behind a lot of great outsides — Camryn (Moeller), Miranda (Silcott), Lauren (Freed) — these outsides that have always kind of had the spotlight before her. It’s now finally her opportunity, and for her to go back there, say ‘I can do this,’ score this point the way we wanted her to and then put three aces down, I was thrilled that she went back there and did what she did. With the pressure on, she said ‘I can make this play.’ And as a senior leader, you just want the best for her.”
Riley finished with five aces on the day, as well as eight kills, six digs and five blocks.
A large reason Troy (9-3) was in position to win in Set 5, though, was the play of another senior leader in Holland.
Holland, who had a team-high 16 digs, an assist and a kill, led the team in aces with nine on the day — and played through a lot of pain to do so.
“She struggles consistently with shoulder issues,” Owen said. “She has to really fight through a lot of shoulder pain to be able to put those serves in bounds for us. I try to give her blows when we can to help take the pressure off her shoulder, but on days like today, she wants to go back there and help her team.”
“I got my first serve in today, but I missed my second. After that, I told myself that I couldn’t be missing serves today,” said Holland, sporting a huge ice pack on her shoulder. “My passing, my digs, serving, we needed it all. And we all had a really good day.”
Troy actually had a shot to win Set 1, leading 24-22, but a kill and a block by Winner erased that chance. Morgan Baber tipped over a kill to give the Trojans another set point, but Winner and and Liz Ording put down back-to-back kills and a Troy error gave Versailles the set.
In the second, Troy was in control from the start, with Schmitz serving six straight points with three aces and Brianna Slusher adding a five-point service run with two aces to even up the match. Holland kept Troy in the third set with her serving, piling up four aces during the team’s two longest runs, but the Tigers got an ace from libero Caitlin McEldowney to close out the set and retake a 2-1 lead.
Troy cruised through Set 4 to even things up and force a fifth set, though, with Schmitz and Slusher combing for six kills and a Schmitz ace finishing it off.
Holland served Troy out to a 5-3 lead with an ace that clipped the net chord early in the fifth, but a service error ended that run and Alexa Didier served Versailles to an 8-6 lead. An error and a three-point run by Schmitz gave the lead back to Troy briefly, but a series of Trojan errors and then a kill and block by Winner made the score 14-12 — setting up Holland for some redemption and ending with Riley’s match-sealing heroics.
“She’s pretty honest about when she’s hurting and when she’s not, and today you could tell,” Owen said. “The fourth and fifth set, she was wearing down, but she was still giving us everything she had and putting them in. And she passed lights out, too. She gave us that pass on that last ball (to Riley) to give us that side out we needed.”
Slusher led the offense with a season-high 12 kills and added an assist, four aces, a dig and a block, and Schmitz added 10 kills, four assists, five aces, 10 digs and two blocks. Setter Morgan Baber had seven kills in addition to her 35 assists, three aces, 11 digs and two blocks, Kate Orban had four kills, three aces and four digs, Carly Pfeiffer had four kills, and three blocks, Gabbi Johnson had a kill and a block, Emmie Jackson had an ace and three digs, Ella Furlong had an assist and six digs and Brennah Hutchinson had three digs.
It was only Troy’s second non-league win this season, with the other being a four-set win over Miami East. The Trojans lost in four at Centerville and were swept by both Fenwick and, most recently, Beavercreek in a rematch of last year’s sectional final. It was also Troy’s third consecutive five-set victory over Versailles — including a fifth-set rally from down 14-11 to winning 17-15 last season on the road.
“We knew we had it in us,” Holland said. “We don’t rely on one person. We’re an all-around good team. And once we click, we know. Yeah, we have our off days, but we know we’re capable, and it feels great to put it all together. To finally come out against a team like Versailles and put it all together, it’s a great feeling.”
“We had a lot of people do a lot of special things today,” Owen said. “The question was could we come out and not look slow and sluggish, not look like we did against Centerville, Fenwick and Beavercreek. We put some pieces together today, which was really nice.”
Troy travels to Trotwood Tuesday before returning home again to face West Carrollton Thursday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.