By Justin Whitaker
SEYMOUR — The Avon volleyball team is sitting on the doorstep of redemption.
After going 39-0 last year before losing in the state finals, the Class 4A No. 4-ranked Orioles are headed back to the state finals.
Avon beat No. 10-ranked Cathedral 3-1 (25-17, 15-25, 25-20, 25-17) in the semistate finals at Seymour last Saturday night after dropping No. 3-ranked Columbus East 3-0 in the morning game.
In comparing the two teams, Orioles (34-5) volleyball coach Scott McQueen finds satisfaction in the 2012 squad’s journey.
“It may mean more than last year,” he said. “It was such a big deal last year but we were kind of rolling the whole way. This year we’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve had to do a lot of learning.”
Standout sophomore Beth Prince led Avon with 20 kills. She was an intricate part of the 2011 squad and is a 6-foot-3 reason why the Orioles are headed back in 2012.
“It’s amazing,” Prince said. “This feeling is incredible and I’m so happy I’ve got to have it the past two years.”
Emily Graves added 14 kills, Rebekah Strange totaled 19 digs, Brooke Peters notched 13 digs and Shelby Conners contributed nine blocks for Avon.
The entire week of preparation for the Orioles focused on the Olympians in the morning game but Avon won the first set against Cathedral, 25-17.
Some of the unfamiliarity snuck through in the second set as the Orioles never really challenged and lost, 25-15.
“I think it started in the first set,” McQueen said. “Obviously, we won the first set pretty easily but I didn’t think we were moving very well and I thought we were a little flat footed.”
The Irish scored 12 of the last 16 points as Avon looked off through the second set.
“We kind of just… (struggling),” Prince said. “We just had to regain our composure and once we did that we were fine.”
Avon built a 15-10 lead and the five-point cushion proved to be the difference in the 25-20 third set.
The fourth set featured seven ties and Cathedral, leading 8-6 before Strange served on a 6-0 run to put the Orioles ahead, 12-8. Avon also scored six of the last seven points to set up a return trip to Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
Prince’s play picked up steam through the match, helping will the Orioles to victory.
“As good as she is, she’s still just a sophomore,” McQueen said. “There are times where she needs to believe how good she is and take rips.”
Normally the stoic, non-reactive coach on the sidelines, McQueen was smiling and fist-pumping through the third and fourth sets. McQueen didn’t like the energy from the team in the first two sets and the dedication and passion started to come out. When the coach’s demeanor changed, the team’s play did too.
“What I feel inside is probably a little different than what I show,” McQueen said about his demeanor. “This is big for this program to be able to get back and go through the things that we did this year. It was great to be able to see them bring that energy back up. We weren’t going to be able to win that match if we didn’t bring our energy up.”
Avon will meet No. 2-ranked Carmel in the state championship, a rematch of August 21’s matchup where the Greyhounds won 3-0. It was the third game of the season for the Orioles.