By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — By the time Miami East made its first ever appearance in the Division III volleyball state championship game, Gilmour Academy was already making its third in a four-year span.
The 2011 Vikings made sure that didn’t matter, defeating the Lancers in four games to win the first of their two consecutive state titles.
And while this year’s Vikings all look up to those teams and players, while they want to carry on that winning tradition and add a banner to the program’s collection, they also want to blaze their own trail.
“They want to create their own legacy and reputation,” Miami East coach Brian Bensman said. “They feel like it’s time for them to do it on their own.
“The girls that came before, they were their role models. But I said to the girls the other day, ‘Now you’re the role models. The kids in junior high now, they’re going to be the ones in the stands — just like you were at that time.’ Those girls were great role models for these girls, and these girls are great role models now. It’s a big deal for the girls and for the whole school.”
That new portion of the Miami East legacy begins today, with Gilmour Academy once again on the other side of the net, in the D-III state semifinal round at 2 p.m. at Wright State’s Nutter Center — and the Vikings (23-4) know it will be their toughest challenge to date.
Gilmour Academy (24-3) finished the season ranked No. 3 in the final state poll and has won in the state semifinal round in each of the past two seasons. In 2013, the Lancers lost in the state title game in five sets to Versailles — the team that ousted the Vikings in the regional semifinal that year — and last season the Lancers were defeated for the title by Huron.
“They’ve been to state seven times, and they’ve been state runners-up five times,” Bensman said. “They’ve got a new head coach this year, but they’ve got most of their key players from last year back — pretty much just like us.”
Leading the way for Gilmour Academy is senior outside Alexa Turk, an Ohio State commit that leads the team in both kills and aces. Sophomore middle Ella Grbac leads the team in blocks and is second in kills, and freshman setter Megan Brzozowski may be young but knows how to make the most of the Lancers’ weapons.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are led by the sophomore duo of setter/outside hitter Jonni Parker — another Ohio State commit — and middle Kyndall Hellyer. The team also has a quartet of seniors — libero Lindsey Black and hitters Emma Monnin, Kati Runner and injured Karson Mahaney — and a host of juniors that all can come through in clutch moments.
Miami East lost in the regional semifinal round each of the past two seasons — both times to Versailles. This year, though, the Vikings blew away Anna in three easy games to break the regional curse, then they rallied after dropping the first set to defeat Newark Catholic in four to get back to the state’s final four.
“Their confidence level was kind of missing the last couple years,” Bensman said. “The difference, I think, is that we have that now. The girls know that if they miss that play, they can move on and make it on the next play.
“Like in the Newark Catholic match. We were down 24-23 in the fourth set, but Kyndall took the serve with that ‘I’ve got this’ attitude. There’s a maturity level in that, too, as well as confidence.”
The Vikings have been the underdogs ever since winning their fifth straight district title — and it certainly hasn’t affected them yet. Miami East finished the season No. 17 in the final state poll, with Anna ranked No. 15 and Newark Catholic No. 6.
Miami East will take on Gilmour Academy after the early semifinal match between undefeated No. 1 St. Henry and No. 9 Tuscarawas Valley face off at noon.
“I told the girls that we don’t need to do anything different than what they’ve been doing,” Bensman said. “We just need to work on the things that we do best. We can’t worry about the individuals on the other team. The girls just need to believe in themselves and trust the team.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.