Licking Valley picked a bad time to have a bad night.
The Panthers had numerous errors, including a shocking 16 on serves, and it was enough to open the door for Jonathan Alder on Tuesday. The improving Pioneers upset the third-seeded Panthers 27-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-23 in a Division II district semifinal at Worthington Christian.
“We did make a lot of errors, but that is not an excuse for us losing,” Valley coach Abby Fitz said. “A good team forces you to make errors. Jonathan Alder definitely was a good team, and when they put the pressure on you, that is what starts happening.
“We had talked about as you get further in tournament, they start calling it tighter. We talked about in practice watching our (double hits).”
The Panthers (21-4) had hoped to play for a district title for the second consecutive season. Instead, 13th-seeded Jonathan Alder (13-9), which rallied from a 2-0 deficit to upset Lakewood in the second round, doubled down with a team led by two talented sophomores and a freshman.
Carrie McArtor’s block finished the third set and kept Valley’s heart beating. The Panthers, however, trailed from the start in the fourth set in large part because of serving.
Four of the Pioneers’ first seven points came on mishaps. Carly Skeese’s tip got the Panthers to a 23-23 tie, but two hitting errors finished it for Jonathan Alder.
“It seemed like almost every crucial time when we would gain momentum we would miss a serve,” Fitz said. “In a game like that, you couldn’t afford to lose the momentum, especially when we were down.”
Valley had to climb the mountain all night. Despite Cassi Stein’s nine kills and three aces, the Panthers dropped the first set, which featured 13 ties, including at 23, 24 and 25.
“They really enjoy playing the sport, and when they get excited and they have a good kill, we make sure we are celebrating it and having a good time,” Pioneers coach Shanna Glassner said. “It about having fun, and that is when they play their best.”
Valley struggled during the second set, scoring six of the final seven points to close the gap. The Panthers improved at the net in the third set and used McArtor to help the neutralize sophomore Karlee Reynolds and freshman Alexa Hasting.
McArtor finished with six kills and six blocks, supporting Stein’s 19 kills, three aces and three blocks. Mackenzie Hoyt added 10 kills, and Laikyn Hrinko had 25 assists and 10 digs.
“(McArtor) did a good job of putting the block up, and she started to get more involved in the offense, too,” Fitz said. “It gave us an edge for a little while.”
Reynolds, Hasting and Meghan Keller each had 12 kills in Jonathan Alder’s balanced attack. Reynolds also had seven blocks, and Natalie Regula, another sophomore, had 38 assists.
Valley still is celebrating its outright Licking County League title. It was the perfect going-away present for six seniors.
“Just in the locker room, we talked about there is nothing I can say that is going to make that loss feel better, but we have things to celebrate such as winning the LCL outright,” Fitz said. “We talked about how proud we are of them and what they accomplished.”