By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Each time the Tippecanoe volleyball team has come up against high-level competition this season, it has proven itself.
Roger Bacon had simply faced that level of competition more.
The Spartans — who finished the regular season undefeated despite playing in the powerhouse Greater Catholic League and finished as the No. 1 ranked team in the state in Division II — held off an early challenge by the fired-up Red Devils, building a 2-0 lead and closing out the match in four to win Thursday’s D-II regional semifinal 25-22, 25-14, 25-27, 25-18 at Butler High School.
Roger Bacon improved to 26-0 with the win and will face league rival Fenwick — a 3-0 winner over yet another GCL team, McNicholas, in the other semifinal — in Saturday’s regional championship match. Tippecanoe, which made its first regional appearance since 2015, finished the season 24-3, the team’s most victories in a season since going 24-2 in 2009.
“The bottom line is that when you play a team that is in strong competition every match, when those critical situations come, sometimes they handle it a bit better,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “Despite saying that, though, I think that we handled those situations well and gave them a run for their money.”
And that was true from the start, as the Devils — driven by an energized student section — came out on fire in the first set. A block by Corinn Siefring capped off a 3-0 run to start the match, and Brooke Aselage put down six kills in the opening set to help the Devils maintain a slim lead throughout.
Roger Bacon finally tied the score at 18-18, and the teams traded points until a kill by Olivia Berry gave the Spartans their first lead at 21-20. But a kill by Rachel Wildermuth evened things up again, and a one-handed save by Isabelle Crow that landed on Roger Bacon’s side of the net allowed the Devils to retake the lead at 22-21. But a service error tied it up again, and Olivia Hawkins served up two aces during a three-point run, including one on set point, to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
Still, Tippecanoe — which had finished the regular season No. 16 in the state rankings — now knew it could contend against the No. 1 Spartans.
“Roger Bacon is a ball control-driven team,” Garcia said. “They are very disciplined in how they play and do some good things. They were good defensively. But, with that said, the way we thought they would play, their tempo was a lot slower than we’ve seen — that’s how we were able to put some hands on balls.”
In Set 2, though, the Spartans took control. A tip kill by Olivia Newbourn gave the Devils an early 7-6 lead, but after a sideout MaryKate Dewees served nine points in a row to stake Roger Bacon out to a 16-7 lead, and Tippecanoe couldn’t recover, falling behind 2-0.
Tippecanoe recomposed itself in the third set, though, rallying from an early 13-7 deficit to tie the score at 14-14 and then even claim a 17-15 lead after an ace by Wildermuth. Roger Bacon got the lead back at 19-17 after two kills and a block by Kelly Brenner, and the Spartans held a two-point lead until set point at 24-22.
But Crow tipped over a kill to keep the Devils alive, and a block and a kill by Wildermuth gave Tippecanoe a set point. The teams traded service errors after that, and a tip kill by Aselage gave the set to the Devils at 27-25 and forced a fourth set.
“We showed that we have one of the best outside hitters in the state in Brooke Aselage,” Garcia said. “She showed that tonight, even playing with a bum foot, she was able to come through and get some rips on it. And we have one of the best setters in the state in Izzy Crow. We were struggling serve receiving, and the way she handled herself distributing the ball was big.
“You don’t go 24-3, take on the No. 1 team in the state and force them to call timeouts because you’re (not good). We pushed them to the limit.”
In the fourth, though, Roger Bacon built an early 12-7 lead and led by as many as eight at 20-12 before a four-point run by Tippecanoe made things interesting. An ace by Crow kept the Devils in it at 21-18, but the Spartans closed it out with four straight points with two kills and a block coming from Brenner — one of those kills coming on match point.
Aselage led the Devil offense with 14 kills, Wildermuth had eight kills, two blocks and two aces, Siefring had five kills and three blocks, Crow had two kills and three aces, Alaina Titley had three kills and Newbourn had one kill.
“We hung tough and gave them a good fight,” Garcia said. “They were a very good team. They earned the win and deserved it.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.