BASCOM - In 2010, Nancy Hoover took her Old Fort volleyball team to the district finals. The next two years though, Old Fort went one-and-done in the post season. This year's Stockader roster is loaded with underclassmen, none of whom had ever experienced a tournament win.
That all changed Tuesday in the Division IV sectional semifinals at Hopewell-Loudon. Old Fort took the first two games from Lakota but saw the momentum switch to the Raiders in Game 3 and the early stages of Game 4.
The young Stockader team found a way to fight back and score a 25-21, 25-23, 19-25, 25-18 victory.
"It's really exciting, we haven't had a tournament win a couple years," Old Fort junior Samantha Hartsel said. "To get this one as a young team, it's really important to us."
"It was really good, we needed it," classmate Sara Bell added. "We had a few tough losses and this was a really strong win that really pushed us forward, and hopefully we'll do good in the next game."
Three kills from Hartsel and two each from Sydney Clouse and Jordan Magers powered Old Fort to a first-game win.
The second game was a back-and-forth affair that saw 10 ties and four lead changes. Lakota's Katie Park came alive up front with five kills in the game. Makayla Kiser added a pair of late kills as Lakota looked poised to even up the match up 23-21.
But despite being young, Old Fort showed the poise of veterans with its juniors leading the way. Bell tipped a kill over a Lakota block to tie the game at 23. Shelby Bigler served an ace to get the Stockaders to game-point, which Bell slammed away for the win and a 2-0 match lead.
"It was really important," Hartsel said when asked about taking the second game. "We've been focusing on that. We've had to fight back through a lot of deep holes we seem to get ourselves in. But, with our strong servers we've been able to get through it."
Six freshmen see time for Old Fort, several playing key roles. Hoover says she looks to the experienced juniors on the team to be the leaders and pull the team through crucial moments.
"Obviously they have to be leaders because they have the experience," she said. "The freshmen are doing a great job. They're very athletic and they've improved a lot throughout the season. The upperclassmen have really helped them and encouraged them along the way."
Lakota coach Sarah Lawrence said her team did a much better job of hitting in the second game, but praised the defensive effort of Old Fort's defense - led by Bilger at libero - for not allowing her team to get many hits down.
"I thought we came out, we kind of played hesitant at first," Lawrence said. "Second game we started swinging more. Old Fort's a very scrappy team. When my girls were asking where holes was, I'd tell them the one, but you gotta put the ball down because their libero, she's top notch. She's one of the best in the league. But overall, we came out and I thought we played alright."
Game 3 took a similar tone to the second one. After 10 ties and four lead changes, the teams sat deadlocked at 17. But Park fueled an 8-2 rally to give Lakota the game, and life in the match.
"It's all about heart and it's never over until its over," Lawrence said. "Two games down, there's never a doubt you can come back and win the next three."
Lakota raced out to an 8-3 lead in Game 4, but once again Old Fort fought back.
"We've played them before and we've had to go into four games so we realized that we could pull game four out and we could win it," Hartsel said. "We didn't want to go into game 5."
The Stockaders pushed ahead after back-to-back Bell aces, followed by back-to-back Hartsel kills. All together it was a 16-7 run for Old Fort to close out the game and the match.
"Obviously Sara's serving was a big key there, she's been a leader for us all year," Hoover said. "She's really stepped up and that's a big help that she get those serves in and everyone was able to back her up. She's just done a tremendous job, leadership-wise."
Bell said the leadership role is one she proudly takes on.
"We just pumped everyone up, try and get the attitudes up, get the spirits up and finish strong," Bell said. "It's very important. We have to really step it up even though we're not the seniors, it really helps us with our leadership skills and step up our game on the court and off the court."
Hartsel lead Old Fort with 12 kills. Magers added nine and Clouse seven. Bell and Morgan Kemenah each added six. Allison Adelsperger tossed up 36 assists and had three aces, including two in the final stretch of Game 4. Bilger had 16 digs to lead the defense.
Alaina Bickford had 28 digs and Aubrey Bickford dished out 27 assists for Lakota (9-13).
Up front, Park paced the Raiders with 11 kills. Bree Long-Meyer tallied nine and Destiney Long-Meyer had eight.
Lawrence praised the efforts given by her team, especially her hitters.
"They came out aggressive and that was a big reason we were in the game," she said. "And I thought our libero, Alaina, played awesome in the back row. She was digging up everything she could. I'm happy with their performance, they gave it their all."
Old Fort (8-15) advances to play New Riegel in the second game of a sectional final doubleheader Saturday back at Hopewell-Loudon.