By Jake Thompson
MUNCIE — With a thrilling five-set win over Carmel Saturday night at Ball State University’s Worthern Arena, the Avon Orioles girls’ volleyball team brought home the schools’ second team state title in its history.
Avon downed Carmel 3-2 (21-25, 25-20, 25-17, 21-25, 15-10) and the Orioles displayed a gritty and determined performance the entire way in front of a raucous crowd.
“I was so proud of them and they have made so much progress and improvements throughout the year,” Avon coach Scott McQueen said. “I am super proud of the girls, they deserve it.”
But the championship did not come easy and Carmel (37-2) did not just hand the title to the Orioles.
The Greyhounds jumped on top of Avon early in the first set, getting out to an 11-4 lead, but the Orioles fought back, tying the match at 19-19 and led 21-20 before Carmel reeled off five consecutive points to take the set. Calle Weddle led the Orioles with six kills on 11 attacks.
Despite getting down early in the first game, Avon built some confidence that carried over into the second set. It was the Orioles turn to get out in front after a 9-9 tie, going on a 10-3 run that pushed them to a 25-20 victory. That marked the first time the Greyhounds had lost a set in 49 tries, dating back to September 27 against 3A state champion Indianapolis Chatard.
Avon’s front line really started to click during that set and it carried over into the third game.
In the pivotal third set, Avon steadily worked ahead of Carmel and continued to play consistent, and at times, dominating volleyball. With three kills from Shelby Connors midway through, Avon increased its lead to 20-14 and cruised to a 2-1 match lead.
With a state title in the balance, Avon needed to seize control from the Greyhounds but could not in a fourth set that featured six ties, the last at 13-13. Carmel went on a 7-3 run after that and gained momentum heading into the fifth and final set.
“On the inside all of us were like ‘What are we doing?’ but to each other we were like ‘Let’s just be calm, let’s just be calm,’” Avon’s Beth Prince said of the final set. “That entire game we kept our composure and that’s what’s important.”
The Greyhounds started with a 1-0 lead but Avon never trailed after that, scoring the last four points after leading 11-10 to win the championship.
“I’ve said it before and even made teams tighten up because of it, but the last game is the hardest to win,” McQueen said. “It got frantic at times, but for the most part I felt like we went for it there and that was so huge.”
Avon served the ball really well all night as Brooke Peters and Kayla Springer each recorded two aces and Rebekah Strange and Rachel Griffin served 24 and 23 points, respectively without an error.
The contest was one for the record books, literally, as the Orioles shattered several Class 4A individual five-set state championship marks.
Prince set the record for most kills (24), Griffin broke the assist mark (54), and Shelby Connors set two records on the night with block assists (9) and total blocks (9). Prince missed the kill attempts by three with 62 on the night.
All of those marks were set in 2007, but according to Connors those things really don’t matter to the team or individuals.
“I think we do not even worry about (records),” she said. “If we beat it, then cool, we beat it. If not, then that’s fine, too.”
Prince agreed with Connors and heaped the praise on her teammates.
“That’s amazing and I don’t feel like I (set a record) but I couldn’t have done it without my girls” she said. “They are everything and I’m glad, but I’m giving it all to my team.”
Griffin was equally as humble.
“That’s awesome and also for Beth and Shelby,” she said. “It’s awesome we could come together as a team and end up doing that tonight. I was never worried, ever. I knew our team could come through and if we can set records while doing it, that’s great.”
Prince, Conners and Weddle made up a dominating front line for Avon and combined for 50 of the Orioles’ 65 kills on the night .
To top off the amazing evening, Avon’s Kayla Springer was named the Class 4A Mental Attitude Award winner.
After being on the precipice of a championship last season, the Orioles finished as state runner-up. This title was a culmination of many long years building a program for McQueen who finally ascended to the proverbial mountain top.
“It’s not just the state championship match that is amazing, it’s the steps leading up to it,” he said. “That makes this so much more special and I hope our girls that graduated are as proud of this team and themselves because that’s the only reason we would have been able to make these steps.”