Vikings shock Jets in 5

BROOKVILLE — Having already seen its decade-long Cross County Conference winning streak snapped, the Miami East volleyball team found itself trying to keep alive its run of district titles and regional tournament appearances — with top-seeded and undefeated Northeastern standing in the way in the district semifinal round.

The Vikings weren’t concerned, though.

“We play a tough schedule. Our end-of-the-season schedule is tough for a reason,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said. “I told the girls that their record didn’t matter — here in the tournament, they’re 2-0 and we’re 2-0.”

And in the end, No. 5 Miami East outlasted No. 1 Northeastern in five grueling sets in the Division III district semifinal, staying alive and handing the Jets their first defeat after scoring an 18-25, 25-19, 25-23, 21-25, 15-6 upset Tuesday at Brookville High School.

The Vikings improved to 14-10 and reached the district final for the 10th straight season. Northeastern, meanwhile, saw its season end at 21-1.

“I’m happy for these girls,” Peterson said. “Between COVID and injuries — we’ve had injuries all year and are playing through some right now — it’s been a learning curve. Because we graduated a lot of seniors last year that played a lot of varsity time. But these girls are finding their own here at the end of the season.”

Still, it looked like it could be a quick night for the Vikings early, as Northeastern’s Lauren Tuttle and Janna Straight combined for 10 first-set kills and staked the Jets out to a 1-0 lead.

“We’ve started slow this whole season,” Peterson said. “We got down early in the first set and kept crawling back, then a couple 50-50 balls didn’t go our way and took that one away from us. But we told them in between the first and second set that we were passing the ball well in serve receive, and if we keep doing that, we’re good to go.”

But East rallied in the second, with Ava Prince serving a five-point run to give the Vikings a 15-13 lead and senior Sierra Kinnison piling up six kills to help close the set out. Kinnison then added eight more kills in the third, and East led the match 2-1.

Kinnison finished with 25 kills and 19 digs, both match-high totals, missing a career high in kills by only one.

Northeastern’s offense, meanwhile, was practically negated by Miami East’s block as Megan McDowell, Cadence Ray and Kayly Fetters stuffed the Jets’ firepower at the net.

“These last two weeks of practice — when we’ve actually had time to practice, because our regular season schedule is so compact — we’ve worked on blocking a lot,” Peterson said. “And you saw today, it’s a product of the work they’ve put in in practice. Because we’ve worked our butts off at it these past few weeks, and it showed there.”

But the Jets weren’t done, and Tuttle found openings late in the fourth set for kills on Northeastern’s final four points, including three straight to even up the match at 2-2 and force a decisive fifth set.

In the fifth, though, it was all East.

A tip kill by Kinnison handed the serve to Cara Budd with a 2-1 lead, and by the time Northeastern halted Budd’s run, the Vikings were up 8-2 and never looked back. McDowell had a pair of blocks during the run and Kinnison and Ray each put down a kill, and a kill by Fetters on match point officially sent the Vikings on to the next round.

“It’s great for Cara,” Peterson said of Budd. “She’s a senior that really didn’t play that much until this year, but she works her butt off in practice serving. We all do. I think the girls groan whenever I say to get out the cones, but it works. It pays off. We saw the fruits of that labor tonight.”

Ava Jacomet added 11 kills, 17 digs, an ace, a block and an assist, Fetters had five kills, a block and two digs, Ray had four kills, four blocks and three digs and McDowell had three kills and two digs to go with her seven blocks. Prince had 47 assists, six digs, a block, an ace and two kills, Lauren Wright had 15 digs, two aces and an assist, Delaney Frock had 14 digs and an ace, Budd had nine digs and Reagan Howell had one dig.

Miami East will now face McNicholas in Friday’s district final at Northmont High School. McNicholas, the No. 5 seed in the Withrow sectional, upset No. 3 Madeira in four sets in the other district semifinal.