At the beginning of the 2017 season, the Saint Joseph Academy volleyball program had one singular goal – to take home a state championship.
The Jaguars are one win away.
Playing in front of a spirited student section and with great support from the SJA community, the Jaguars posted a 3-1 comeback win (21-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-22) over Massillon Jackson in Thursday’s state semifinal game. The win propels the Jaguars to Saturday’s OHSAA Division 1 state championship game to be played at 11:00 a.m. at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University. SJA will face the winner of the Dublin Coffman – Cincinnati Ursuline Academy match.
“When this season started, we said our goal was to win a state championship,” said Saint Joseph Academy Head Coach Kate Latkovic. “What we did today was give ourselves an opportunity to do that. Obviously winning a match at the state tournament is a great accomplishment, and we are so excited to have done that, but we have one more to get.”
The Jaguars were once again led by their outstanding defense and blocking and some timely hitting. The middle hitting duo of senior Colleen Neitzel and junior Cecylia Guye were dominant in the match. Colleen Neitzel led the Jaguars with 16 kills and six blocks while Guye had 15 kills on .324 hitting and seven blocks. Junior Molly Neitzel had 11 kills while senior Beth Brady had seven kills and 29 digs.
Defensively, sophomores Lauren Gardner and Izzy Micheli kept many points alive. Micheli led the Jaguars with 31 digs. Junior setter Logan Whitaker and sophomore setter Sadie Joyce each had 23 assists.
A year removed from their first Final Four appearance, the Jaguars were shaky in the early going but then played with a confidence and attitude they did not have in Dayton last year.
“We started a little slow today but once we got things going, I thought we played well,” said Latkovic. “Being here last year, playing in this building, and seeing what the state tournament is like certainly helped us. We were ready to play today.”
The Jaguars dropped the opening set 25-21 before capturing the final three sets.
“We just kept saying get one more dig, one more swing, one more point and we can turn this around,” said Colleen Neitzel. “We are so much better when we are aggressive and we didn’t start out that way but then we got rolling and we kept it that way for the rest of the match.”
Jackson went ahead 13-7 in the first set as the Jaguars took a while to get going. SJA then went on a 4-0 run to get within 13-11. The Polar Bears led the first set 16-14 and opened up their lead to 24-17. The Jaguars did not quit however and scored four in a row before Jackson closed out the first set 25-21.
The second set was tied at 6-6 before SJA went on a 6-1 run to open up a 12-7 lead. Then Jackson went on a run of their own as the Polar Bears scored seven of the next 10 to get within one point at 15-14. Keyed by a great Micheli dig to keep alive an important point, the Jaguars went on a 6-1 run and closed out the second set 25-18 to tie the match at 1-1.
The third set started off rocky for the Jaguars as they fell behind 9-3. Elodie Joyce and Nora Clink then took turns running off four straight serves each and SJA led 12-10 after a 9-1 run. The set was close throughout and Jackson actually took the lead at 22-21 before SJA closed out the set to win the all-important third set and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
In the closeout set, the Jaguars never led by more than four and Jackson kept things close throughout. The match was tied at 21-21 before SJA scored four of the final to seal the victory.
Saturday’s title match will be broadcast live, beginning at 11:05 a.m. on Spectrum TV (channel 311/1311).