The Swanton volleyball team dropped a thrilling first set to Delta 27-25, but then responded by sweeping the next three 25-16, 25-23 and 25-16 to claim a Division III sectional championship in front of their home crowd Saturday night.
“I told them before this match that we had to play harder than them (Delta),” said Swanton mentor Kyle Borer. “Even the first set we lost, I told them I can’t fault your guys’ effort right now but we weren’t doing it mentally at that time. But we picked it up, both parts of the game came through.”
The momentum swang in the Bulldogs favor in the third set when with the set tied at 18 and the match at one game apiece, Swanton’s Julia Smith scored with a tip at the net, Heather Williams by way of an ace, Sidney Taylor a shot from the left side, Williams another ace, and a Panther hitting error gave them a 23-18 lead.
But the Panthers answered with five straight points to tie it, beginning with a Bulldog serving error, back-to-back kills from the left by McKinsey Finnen, a Swanton error, and Finnen’s shot over a Swanton block.
Smith and Claire Leidigh of Swanton put an exclamation point on the game with consecutive shots down the middle to put the Dogs ahead two games to one.
“She was smart. She placed the ball where there wasn’t anybody defensively,” said Borer of Smith. “All the hitters, everybody, had a good night swinging.”
In the fourth game, Smith began a run for Swanton with another shot down the middle, Williams added consecutive aces, Taylor a two-handed push and a shot from the left that made it 9-4 and forced a timeout by the Panthers.
However, Delta would get within five only once more throughout the rest of the set as Swanton went onto take it 25-16, ending the match.
The Dogs were on the opposite end of the spectrum in game number one as Delta led 23-18. After a timeout by the Dogs, Smith dug one over for a point, Taylor added an ace, a Panther error, Taylor’s ace and Smith’s kill from left knotted the score.
A Swanton infraction put Delta ahead 24-23, however, Leidigh drilled a shot from left to re-tie the score. The two squads alternated the next two points, then a Bulldog miscue made it 26-25, Delta.
A Jessi Davis two-handed push for the Panthers closed it out to put Delta up 1-0.
Swanton’s Cydney Christensen fired a strike down the middle, then back-to-back Panther hitting errors gave the Dogs a comfortable 18-12 lead in game two.
Following a Bulldog shot that went out of play, Smith scored through a block, Williams got an ace, a Delta error, another ace by Williams and a Panther miscue put Swanton ahead by 10, 23-13.
Although Delta scored three of the next four points, Smith’s two-hander capped off the game two win for the Dogs.
“There have been a lot of firsts this year. It is great to say we won sectionals,” said Borer, speaking of his team winning Swanton’s first sectional volleyball title since 2007. “The girls are obviously elated. We worked hard for this all summer, all preseason (and) all fall so far. And it’s nice to have the whole Swanton community, it seemed like was here tonight.”
To get to the sectional final, the Bulldogs swept Liberty Center at home on Wednesday, 25-7, 25-19 and 25-12.
Leidigh paced Swanton with eight kills, four aces and 15 digs. Taylor added seven kills while Christensen finished with five.
Swanton now heads to Perrysburg to take on top-seeded Eastwood in the first round of the district tournament this Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010