By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Normally stoic no matter what, Michelle Owen couldn’t even hold back.
That’s because her Trojans did something on the floor they hadn’t before in a district final.
“This was the third time we’ve come in here feeling like we really had a shot, where the girls believed in their hearts that we could win,” the emotional Troy volleyball coach said. “And today, we went out and battled and were close to taking a set.”
Even with the fight the previously-undefeated Trojans put up, though, there was no overcoming the Cincinnati area’s utter dominance when it comes to Division I postseason volleyball as St. Ursula won the first set easily then held on as Troy fought back in sets two and three to complete a 25-13, 25-19, 25-22 sweep in the D-I district championship game Saturday at Butler High School.
Before the season began, Owen laid out what would need to happen so that the Trojans even would have a slim chance — earn the No. 1 seed in the Dayton area in the hopes of avoiding Cincinnati’s top two seeds, Mount Notre Dame and Ursuline Academy. And — despite a preseason injury to star senior Lauren Freed, who eventually worked her way back late in the year — that’s exactly what they did, going undefeated and winning not only their division, but the overall Greater Western Ohio Conference title, as well.
But since the Dayton sectionals being paired with a Cincinnati sectional winner became mandatory, a period of seven or eight years now, no Dayton team has ever beaten a Cincinnati school for the district title. That continued Saturday, also — Mount Notre Dame and Ursuline swept Centerville and Beavercreek off the court, respectively.
“Two other times we got here and honestly felt like we had a shot,” Owen said. “In 2008 when we had Kelly Montgomery and Breezy Strete and Kristen Rice, we played Mount Notre Dame. They scouted us, like, six times that year. They were afraid of us. In Game 1 we played great and then, after we lost that one, we kind of fell off. Then Lauren’s freshman year in 2012, we had Lakota West, and was a similar thing.
“I was proud of all of us today. The girls went out and battled.”
In Game 1, Troy struggled, though, as the Bulldogs passed everything with efficiency and played solid defense. Troy kept the deficit manageable early, with an ace by Miranda Silcott putting them down 7-6. But St. Ursula went on a four-point run from there to force Troy to call its first timeout, and the Trojans had to burn their other one after another four-point run put them down 19-9.
The Trojans only won two points on their own serve in the whole set — Silcott’s ace and a Katie DeMeo kill on a ball served by Camryn Moeller — which made the score 21-12 St. Ursula at that point.
“They were in system a lot in Game 1, and we were just a little timid,” Owen said. “We were within one at one point, and then they went on a run to stretch the gap. And we just played side-out ball the whole game. We couldn’t win a point on our serve. We couldn’t make up a five-point gap, and suddenly we were down by nine.
“Once it got to 19-9, we just called timeout and told the girls to fix what they could at the end of the game and get ready for set two. We regrouped for Game 2 and found a way to hang around a little longer.”
But twice, with the score tied both times, questionable calls hurt the Trojans’ momentum.
A three-point service run by Freed gave Troy an early 4-1 lead and got the Trojans fans present fired up. St. Ursula went on a five-point run to answer, though, until a kill by DeMeo tied the score at 6-6. And a Bulldog error on a ball hit long appeared to give the lead back to Troy — but the referees conferred and ruled that a Troy defender had touched in when none appeared to be nearby along the ball’s path.
Troy recovered from that and re-tied the score at 8-8 on a DeMeo block, but then St. Ursula’s Jackie Wildermuth was awarded a kill on a ball that looked like it landed far outside the sideline — a point that kicked off a six-point run that gave the Bulldogs a 13-8 lead. Play remained even from that point on as Troy couldn’t recapture the energy it had began the game with, and St. Ursula won it by six.
“It’s rough. It’s rough when you’re finally in the right position, you’re doing the things you should be doing and you get those calls,” Owen said. “But all week, we prepared for things going wrong like that. We tried to prepare in practice for Ursula getting those points, and that’s exactly what happened. But you’ve got to try to play through that.”
Facing elimination, Troy put in its best effort of the day in Game 3.
Freed had four of her team-high 11 kills during an eight-point stretch in the middle of the game, giving Troy a 15-13 lead. After a three-point run by the Bulldogs put Troy behind, the Trojans tied the score as late as 17-17 on a tip-kill by setter Dana Wynkoop. It was as close as the Trojans could get — they cut the deficit to one at 23-22, but an error and a block by Wildermuth put an end to the match.
“They struggled to defend Katie and Drezanee (Smith) with our quicker tempo, so we tried to go to that more,” Owen said. “Our ball control was above where it needed to be, too. We’ve come to district before and been served off the court, and that didn’t happen today.”
Freed added two aces and 14 digs to her 11 kills, DeMeo had five kills and two blocks, Silcott had five kills, an ace, six digs and two blocks, Smith had four kills, two blocks and a dig and Moeller had three kills, four blocks and 10 digs. Dana Wynkoop had 24 assists, three digs, two kills and an ace and Victoria Holland had four digs and three assists in the match.
It marked the end of the careers of Freed, Troy’s three-time GWOC North Division Player of the Year, as well as Smith and Kaylie Marshall. The Trojans finished the year with a 24-1 record.
It was the belief that they could have gone one step farther, though, combined with how hard the team battled that made it so hard to accept afterward.
“The girls just battled so hard,” Owen said. “When we’d been here before, we’d played well early and fell off. But today we improved, we battled harder and harder. And I’m just so proud of all the girls.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.