LANCASTER - With the way the Waterford High volleyball team has been playing this season, it was going to take a very tough opponent to take them down.
Unfortunately for the Lady Wildcats, that's exactly what they ran into Thursday evening against Newark Catholic. The Green Wave topped Waterford in four sets at Lancaster High School to advance to the Division IV regional championship game and end the 'Cats' season.
"They were a good team," Waterford head coach Jandy Drayer said of the Green Wave. "Probably not one of our better performances, but you've got to attribute that to all of (Newark Catholic's) good serves, the way they hit the ball, making us do things we're not comfortable with.
JORDAN HOLLAND The Marietta Times
Waterford's Dani Drayer (right) spikes the ball as Newark Catholic's Maddie Wirth (left) tries to block it during a regional semifinal volleyball match Thursday at Lancaster High School. Waterford's Haley McCutcheon (center) looks on.
"We probably did not play well because they made us not play well."
Newark Catholic won the first two sets by scores of 25-15 and 25-17 before Waterford rallied to claim the third set 25-22.
The two teams were tied at 5-all in the fourth set before the Green Wave pulled away for a 25-15 victory to take the match.
Regional semifinal @ Lancaster
Newark Catholic d. Waterford 25-15, 25-17, 22-25, 25-15
Waterford (23-3): Dani Drayer 3pts, 1ace, 10kills, 2blocks, 24digs; Laura Hill 2pts, 1assist, 10kills, 13digs; Taylor Hilverding 1pt, 2assists, 7kills, 1block, 10digs; Haley McCutcheon 3pts, 1ace, 6kills, 2blocks, 16digs; Alyssa Miller 5pts, 121/122setting, 33assists, 2blocks, 3digs; Katie Semon 9digs; Maddy Sury 11pts, 7klls, 4blocks, 5digs; Regan Porter 1/1 attacks
The Wildcats ended the year at 23-3. It was just the third regional tournament appearance in the team's history, and the first since 2010.
Newark Catholic improved to 23-4 and will face either Beaver Eastern or Shekinah Christian at Lancaster Saturday at 2 p.m. with a state berth on the line
In each of the first two games of Thursday's match, Waterford trailed just 11-10 before the Green Wave turned it on.
In the opening set, N.C. went on a 9-2 run to go up 20-13. A kill by Haley McCutcheon cut it to 20-14 before Catholic's Taylor Daignault responded with a kill. On the ensuing serve, N.C. hit it into the net to make it 21-15 before winning the final four points to win 25-15 and put the Wildcats in 1-0 hole.
During the second set, a kill by Taylor Hilverding, assisted by Alyssa Miller, made it a one-point game at 11-10 before Catholic took the next three points to build the lead to 14-10. Later, a block by Maddy Sury made it 15-12, but NC scored five of the next seven points to make the score 20-14.
NC continued to answer every potential Waterford rally, as a Dani Drayer kill was followed by back-to-back blocks from Catholic's Jill Blacksten and Becca Kapavik, prompting a Wildcats timeout. Three plays later, Christine Joyce recorded a kill to end the set at 25-17, further stacking the odds against Waterford.
However, the Lady 'Cats never gave up, clawing back with a much-needed win in the third set.
A kill by Sury and consecutive kills by Laura Hill put Waterford up 3-0, but Newark Catholic would end up tying the game at 11-all to put the pressure on. Two kills apiece from Drayer and Hilverding and one from Sury made it an 18-15 game. Waterford won the next four points to make it 22-15, but a kill and a block by Blacksten brought it to 22-17. McCutcheon then notched a kill of her own before the Green Wave scored four straight points to draw closer 23-21.
Miller then set up Sury on a kill to bring Waterford within a point from a set win, but Green Wave wouldn't go quietly as Joyce responded with a kill to make it 24-22. Drayer was able to finish it off with a kill on the next play to get Waterford back in the match.
For Waterford, that momentum briefly carried over into the final set, as kills by Hill, McCutcheon and Hilverding gave the 'Cats a 5-3 lead. NC quickly went on the offensive by taking the net four points to go on top 7-5.
A kill by McCutcheon made it 7-6 before another 4-0 run by NC extended the lead to 11-6.
Needing some kind of rally, a pair of kills by Hill cut it to 13-10. After a kill by Drayer made it 14-11, the Green Wave went on a 6-1 run to go up 20-12 and put the game all but out of reach. Up 22-13, two kills and a block by Blacksten put the finishing touches on it.
Drayer acknowledged that her team did play with some nerves.
"Nobody wants to win more than they do and I think that's why they were so nervous," she said. "They just wanted it so bad."
2013 was an impressive season for Waterford volleyball, as the team won a district and a TVC-Hocking title.
The Wildcats will graduate five seniors - Miller, Hill, McCutcheon, Katie Semon and Jessie Reynolds.
"It was an awesome season," Drayer said. "I couldn't have asked for a better team, better parents. Just in general, it's been amazing. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's been a great run."