BARBERTON-All season long, the South Range volleyball team won in large measure due to its tough defense and superior overall depth. However, in the Division III regional semifinal, the Raiders ran smack into a Wooster Triway team with power, size and-most of all-one player they had no defensive answer for.
Triway sophomore Sara Skeens-a first-team All-Ohioan-finished with 20 points, 13 aces, 21 kills and 14 digs as the fourth-ranked Titans blitzed the Raiders in the final two games to win, 25-23, 20-25, 25-14, 25-14, Wednesday at Barberton High School.
"We were prepared for her (Skeens)," South Range coach Rachell Storm-Baker said. "We knew what she was going to do, but for the most part we weren't very aggressive in passing her serves. They're a strong team and she's a great hitter. We just didn't get it done."
The Raiders finish their most successful season in several years with a 23-3 record to go with the Inter-Tri County League upper tier title and a second straight Salem district championship.
Triway, meanwhile, improves to 25-2 and advances to face ninth-ranked Gates Mills Gilmour Academy in the regional final at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"I'm proud of our team and all that we accomplished this year," South Range senior Stevie Taylor said. "I would have liked to to go farther, but we are still very happy with the season."
It was Taylor who had the most success out of anyone on the Raiders at dealing with Skeens. In her final match, the senior finished with 12 digs, nine kills, nine points and two aces.
"There isn't much more I can say about Stevie's effort tonight," Storm-Baker said. "She's a senior that I am thrilled with how she played and how she led the team tonight. She dug Skeens really well and played very aggressive."
Also for the Raiders, Lynne Ritter had 10 kills and six blocks, Madison Juillerat had 41 assists, eight points and four digs and Raianne Mason had four kills and three blocks.
The action was closely contested early in the match, with the Raiders missing a golden opportunity in the first set to establish control. South Range led the for the majority of the set and, with a 23-20 lead, appeared poised to land an early blow. However, Triway unleashed a 5-0 spurt to snatch the game away. The Raiders would then regroup to take the second set, and it appeared the two teams would be settling in for a long night.
"The first set hurt, but we were able to regroup very well," Taylor said. "We thought we would be fine."
A two-set cushion would have been nice for the Raiders because the third set completely belonged to Triway-or more specifically Skeens. With South Range leading 6-5, the sophomore took over serving duties and spent the next several minutes putting on a powerful display with her booming jump-serve. By the time it was over, she had scorched the Raiders for 14 straight points, including seven aces. In all, it was a 16-0 run. Triway had a commanding 19-6 lead and had left the Raiders out of sorts.
"I think we all just panicked," Taylor said. "I really didn't expect that to happen. She had a really tough serve to handle, and we didn't handle falling behind as well as we normally do."
"It's a hard jump-serve that you don't see a lot," Storm-Baker said. "Once we started falling further behind we got nervous and stopped remembering to take it one point at a time."
The Raiders did not mount a serious threat the rest of the night. Using the blocking of Brooke Drost and a handful of kills from Skeens, the Titans went on an 11-3 run midway through the fourth set to stretch a one point lead to nine. Drost finished with eight blocks, while Andrea Coblentz had 20 assists and Natalie Basinger had 14 digs.
"They're a strong team and they just outplayed us in the fourth game," Storm-Baker said. "We had a couple of times where it looked like we were going to climb back, but we just didn't execute well enough tonight."
Storm-Baker loses three senior starters in Mason, Taylor and Ashley Shetter that helped take the program further than ever before, but still returns a strong core next season as the Raiders will look to make a third straight seep postseason run.
"We worked really hard this year. It was a great season" Storm-Baker said. "We would have liked to go further, but unless you win state, everyone's season ends with a loss."