By John Parent
VAN WERT - The season came to a close for the Ada Bulldogs at the Division IV District volleyball tournament at Van Wert High School on Tuesday night. The Bulldogs fell in three sets to New Knoxville, 25-13, 25-14 and 25-16.
Ada, who knocked off Waynesfield-Goshen and Northwest Conference rival Lincolnview in the sectionals to get here, ran up against on of the premiere teams in the region in New Knoxville.
The Lady Rangers, who defeated Spencerville and St. Henry en route to the districts, battled through a brutal Midwest Athletic Conference to a 16-8 overall record including a 5-4 mark on conference play. That might not sound impressive until you consider that each of the four teams that finished ahead of them in the conference standings were ranked in the latest state poll. Marion Local is ranked number one in Division IV while St. Henry is sixth. Versailles is third in Division III and Coldwater is tied for seventh.
"We knew that while they didn't have any standout hitter, that they were all solid hitters," Ada head coach Joanna Snyder noted following the match. "They like to throw in a hard hit one way and follow that up with a tip. Unfortunately we only had one day to prepare and we couldn't quite execute the way we wanted to."
In the opening set, Ada got off to a solid start. Though the Rangers took an early lead on an ace by Rachel Leffel, the Bulldogs battled back to claim a 4-3 advantage and force the Raiders to use a timeout.
That break seemed to settle things down for New Knoxville, who began to assert themselves in the set and in the match.
The Lady Rangers rattled off the next six points to take a 9-4 lead when Ada used a time out of their own.
Coming back onto the court, Ada's Carlee Marshall made her presence felt with a blast from the middle of the court that New Knoxville's Abby Rohrbach was able to dig out. The ball found its way to Marshall again, however, and this time she wouldn't be denied. On the next point, Ada junior Tori Wyss fired away from the outside and cut the lead to 9-6.
That was as close as the Bulldogs would get, however, as the Lady Rangers ran off the next eight consecutive points thanks to an outstanding service effort from Meg Reineke and a few untimely Ada miscues.
By the time the Bulldogs could settle things down again, with kills by Marshall and Wyss on back-to-back points, the score was out of hand and the Bulldogs went on to close out the set with a Reineke slam.
When you get to this level of tournament play, it's no longer just good enough to get to balls and keep them off the floor, you have to be able to control those plays and turn defensive scrambles quickly into offensive attacks. Ada did a great job getting to balls that the Rangers were firing in on them, but often those digs would up being lofted back over the net without any force and giving a team as good as New Knoxville multiple tries on offense is a recipe for disaster.
The effort of the Bulldogs was phenomenal on Tuesday night, but all to often the Lady Rangers had more than one shot at putting away the point and they were able to take advantage.
As they did in the opener, Ada played close to even with New Knoxville in the early part of the second set. The Lady Rangers took a lead at 6-5 on an ace by libero Kalyn Schroer and consecutive errors by the Bulldogs pushed the lead to three.
Back-to-back Leffel swats missed their mark, keeping the Bulldogs within arm's length of the lead, but Marshall was called for a lift violation after a tip by Madison Lammers of the Lady Rangers and Schroer came up with a tremendous diving dig on a Marshall slam attempt that eventually lead to another Ada miscue.
Haley Horstman took the serve for New Knoxville and served consecutive aces and Schroer dug out not one, but two big Marshall swings on the following point, leading to a spike by Leffel ad a nine point lead.
It was about that time that Ada seemed to realize what kind of team they were up against. If Ada was to come back, they would have to play near flawless volleyball because New Knoxville just isn't prone to mistakes.
Though the Bulldogs kept the effort strong, getting a pair of blocks from Lindsay Walden late in the set, they were facing a two-set deficit and playing for their season headed into the third.
"We definitely didn't have our strongest games in one and two, but I know on a different day we can play with that team," noted Snyder. "We knew New Knoxville was going to be a tough team to beat. We went out there and we gave it what we could. I was much more pleased with game three and the effort the girls gave. I think they wanted to go down fighting."
New Knoxville came out with an ace to start the third set, but misfires by the Ranger hitters kept Ada right there, never falling more than two points behind early on.
An ace by Alexis Amburgey tied the score at 5-5 in the set and the Bulldogs re-tied the game at 9-9 after a Rachel Wildman blast from the outside found the open court. Though the Rangers again pushed out to a two-point edge, Ada fought back and won the next three points, taking a lead at 12-11 when Marshall came up with a kill to tie the score and two blocks on the next point for the lead.
New Knoxville moved back in front on an Ada error, but the set might have turned on a single point. Trailing 13-12, Ada's Marshall lined up a blast from the outside that found its mark along the sideline. It was a shot that would have once again tied the score and given some momentum back to the Bulldogs. Marshall was called for being in the net, however, awarding the point to the Rangers and you could feel the match slipping away for Ada.
That feeling was cemented three points later when Lammers and Kenzie Schroer combined to reject an Ada slam at the net following a long rally that included a terrific scramble by the Rangers to retrieve a wayward ball. It was a point that brought the crowd to its feet and that brought incredible emotion out of the Lady Rangers.
New Knoxville when seal the match after an ace by Reineke effectively put it away.
"I hate to see (the season) end that way because we did have such a solid season," added Snyder. "For it to end on a sour note is not ideal. But I'm proud of the girls, I'm proud of the effort and I think they really came out and showed that they were a solid team."
The Bulldogs end their season at 16-8 overall. It was the final game for defensive specialist Hannah Price, the squad's lone senior.
New Knoxville moves on to face MAC rival Marion Local on Thursday. The Flyers defeated Temple Christian in the late game at Van Wert, 25-11, 25-7 and 25-12.