COLDWATER – Everything the DeWitt volleyball team wanted this season was right there for the taking.
The Class A No. 3-ranked Panthers held a 2-1 lead over No. 4-ranked Portage Central in Thursday’s regional championship game, and they were just one set away from erasing the memory of last season’s five-set regional title loss to Mattawan.
Instead, those dismal feelings resurfaced.
DeWitt went on to drop the fourth and fifth set to the Mustangs at Coldwater High School and fell short of the state quarterfinals for the second year.
“It’s a replay of last year, we had game point last year,” Panthers coach Christy Thelen said. “That’s what stings – it’s just a replay of last year. You have to give Portage Central credit. They’re a heck of a team.”
DeWitt, which spent a good portion of the regular season as Class A’s top-ranked team after knocking off Portage Central earlier this year, suffered its only two losses this season to the Mustangs.
“This may hurt more than last year,” Thelen added. “The girls had such a chip on their shoulder. This was our push, this was our time. We had it, and like I said, you have to give them credit.”
The Panthers, however, had to show some resiliency to put themselves in position to have the opportunity to close the match out on the fourth set. DeWitt trailed Portage Central, 21-19, late in Game 1, and a kill from senior Lexi Nordmann, who will sign her National Letter of Intent to play at Division I Southern Methodist University Friday, allowed her team to close the opening set on an 8-4 run to win, 27-25.
In Game 2, the Mustangs jumped out to a 7-0 lead over DeWitt, but another kill from Nordmann ignited a 12-5 scoring spurt to even the set at 12. The senior had four kills during the run.
The two teams battled back and forth for the rest of the set, but, with the Panthers leading 23-22, Portage Central closed Game 2 with a 3-0 run.
Both teams took turns controlling the lead in the third set, but with the score tied at 16, back-to-back kills from DeWitt sophomore Sydney Mills and senior Rebecca Seeger fueled a 6-1 spurt. The Panthers went on to win the set, 25-21.
The tide turned in the fourth set, and the Mustangs got out to an 18-10 lead. A block and point from junior Grace George was followed by a kill from sophomore Desiree Becker, which helped swing momentum back to DeWitt, but Portage Central ended up taking the set, 25-16.
“We knew that we had a lot riding on (the fourth set),” said Nordmann, a Miss Volleyball finalist, who rolled her ankle late in the first set. “I think the pressure got to us and we got a little bit stressed out. We just needed to keep our composure.
“The games we won, we did a nice job of being the aggressor. But Portage Central just had a great game, and they did a great job and kept swinging.”
In the deciding fifth set, the Panthers found themselves facing a 12-8 deficit. A kill from Mills helped put DeWitt on a 3-1 run to cut its deficit to two, but the Mustangs quickly put a close to the small run and closed out the set with a 15-11 victory.
“There was a lot of changes in momentum – definitely felt it in that fourth game,” Seeger said. “We knew that we could come back and fight in that fifth game, we knew we are a team that fights when we’re down. …A couple of balls didn’t go our way, and that’s why it ended.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.