The final Midland Athletic League volleyball match ever was going to be memorable no matter what the circumstances. But with the league title and a perfect season for New Riegel on the line, the MAL was going out with a bang.
As it turned out, the league's final match may have been one of its best. New Riegel and Calvert produced a five-game thriller. But, like 21 others before them, Calvert couldn't put a blemish on New Riegel's record.
Lauren Ladd had 23 kills on the night, but her final one by far had the most weight on it. It carried a win, a league title and a perfect season. As the ball it the ground, the Blue Jacket faithful rushed the court to celebrate a 23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 19-25, 15-11 victory over the Senecas.
"It feels so amazing," Ladd said. "Especially going into five [games], that was pretty intense. To come out on top, it was amazing."
"I'm so happy right now," senior libero Brittany Gillig added while wiping tears of joy out of her eyes. "I wanted to win so bad."
A Calvert win would've forced a 3-way tie for the league title with Mohawk, and after the Senecas took game four, one game remained to decide the league title.
Before the teams took the floor, New Riegel coach Cindy Walerius had a message for her senior leader.
"I think Lauren Ladd came up really big that fifth game. I told her, I said 'Take over,'" Walerius said. "She got how many kills to start that game, then that last one to end it. I knew she was going to, she was ready for it. I thought in Game 4 her legs just weren't there for her on some of the hits, but she was ready for Game 5. She just kind of dug deep inside and found the energy to take over."
Ladd started off the deciding game by smashing a kill for the game's first point. She put down two more kills and got another point off a block to get the Blue Jackets going. Kara Scherger slammed two kills and Morgan Noftz added an ace as New Riegel raced out to a 7-2 advantage.
"I was trying to take control of the team and get everyone pumped so we could do well and win," Ladd said.
But things were far from locked up as Calvert stormed back to get within one at 12-11.
"We needed to get it together and come together as a team," Gillig said when asked what was talked about in her team's huddle.
And it did as New Riegel took the last three points to claim the match.
"We knew what New Riegel was. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be out there in that match," said Calvert coach Greg Hendrix. "It was two tough teams going at it. We thought we had a shot at them and we did. New Riegel just made more plays in that fifth set."
The start of the night for New Riegel was nowhere near as sweet of the ending. Ladd and Scherger each put down four kills in the opening game, but were bettered by the Calvert duo of Meridith Lucius and Lindsay Bickley who combined for 11 kills (Lucius 6, Bickley 5) as the Senecas edged out the Blue Jackets to take an early lead.
In Game 2, after tying the game at two, New Riegel never trailed again, but never was able to put much separation between itself and Calvert. Ladd and Lucius matched each other with seven kills in the game, but Scherger added six of her match-high 24 kills to aid her team's cause. Scherger also added 21 digs on the defensive end.
"Kara Scherger is just a monster. She's just a beast," Hendrix said. "That kid, she attacks from everywhere; she digs everything. She's just phenomenal."
New Riegel took Game 3 decisively, but Calvert fought back in Game 4. Lucius smacked a pair of kills and paired with Haley Felter on a block for another point. Felter added another point off a block and the Senecas took a 5-0 lead.
"Game 3 was the one time we really let up," Hendrix said. "New Riegel kept their energy level up and we brought ours down and New Riegel took it to us. I was so proud of the girls to regroup and get out there and fight, and scratch and claw and try to pull this out and we just came up a couple points short."
Taylor Arbogast added 13 kills and 22 digs for New Riegel. Morgan Noftz tossed up 37 assists and gathered 20 digs. Gillig led the Blue Jackets' defense diving seemingly all over the floor to come up with 27 digs.
"I just wanted to dig every ball I could and be as aggressive as I could," Gillig said. "Don't let the ball drop."
Calvert got 22 kills for Lucius, 12 each from Bickley and Amber Perry.
"After the Mohawk game, I was upset with the effort the girls gave me that night," Hendrix admitted. "Tonight, I can't be upset. The girls laid it all out there on the floor, took a stab at being a champion tonight and just came up short."
New Riegel, ranked third in Division IV in the state's final coaches poll released Monday, finishes the regular season a perfect 22-0. Though everyone sits on equal footing once tournament play starts - New Riegel plays a sectional final Saturday at Hopewell-Loudon - an undefeated regular season is still something special to hold on to.
"Going 22-0 is pretty awesome," Ladd said. "And winning against good teams like this, it feels pretty good."