Comeback Kids! Dragons stage big rally to beat Villa, advance to D-10 final

Warren’s Lydia Latimer leaps for an attack during a District 10 playoff semifinal match against Villa Maria on Thursday.

Journey’s “Don’t stop believin'” has become the quintessential anthem for sports teams making an improbable run or in need of a comeback.

After falling behind 2-0 to Villa Maria during the District 10 semifinals, Warren’s volleyball team needed to find a way to rally if the Dragons quest for their first district championship was to continue.

Cue the music.

The Dragons mounted a comeback for the ages as they defeated the Victors, 3-2, to advance to the District 10 Championship Saturday.

“We had them right where we wanted them,” Warren coach Mike Dolan joked after the win.

Warren’s Jordan Sitler (1) and Celia Chase (22) go up for a block attempt during a match against Villa Maria at McDowell High School, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The Dragons came back from 0-2 to defeat the Victors, 3-2.

While Dolan was all smiles after the match, his Dragons looked like they would be denied a trip to the title game by a tough Villa team early in the contest.

Much like in their quarterfinal match with Oil City, the Dragons fell behind early in the first set, 7-1. Villa got much of that lead behind Kristin Reiland’s strong serving and tipping balls over Dragon blockers instead of trying to swing through them.

“We were a little tentative and played a couple of out balls,” Dolan said.

Warren rallied and eventually tied the set at 16-16, before grabbing their first lead at 17-16. Villa took a timeout down 19-17 after Warren’s Lydia Latimer blocked Reiland’s attack.

The break ceased Warren’s momentum and Villa retook the lead at 20-19. The Victors had their first set point at 24-21 before eventually putting the set away with a 25-22 win.

Warren’s Grace Wortman attempts to put the ball over the net during a match against Villa Maria at McDowell High School, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

The teams battled to start the second set before Villa started getting more aggressive with the attack and went up 11-7. After struggling with serve receive through the first set and early second, Warren was finally able to get in system in the middle of the second. The Dragons rallied again and tied the set at 18-18. The Victors wouldn’t go away as they retook the lead at 22-21 following an emphatic Reiland kill.

Warren battled back to get the first set point of the game at 24-22. Villa answered by getting its own set point at 25-24. The Dragons got the next two points setting up a third chance to close out the set. The Victors responded by getting two straight points for their second opportunity to win the set. Warren had two more chances at tying the match, going up 28-27 and 29-28 before Villa scored three straight to win the set 31-29 and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.

“That second game loss was devastating,” Dolan said. “But we stuck together and the girls kept getting each other up instead of putting each other down. I’m very proud of them.”

During that second game the Flannel Panel, Warren’s boisterous student section, arrived in force. The match, already with more Dragon fans in attendance than Victor fans, suddenly took on the feel of a Warren home contest.

The play on the court suddenly began looking like a typical home game for the Dragons as well.

Lex Nyquist serves for Warren during a District 10 semi-final match against Villa Maria at McDowell High School, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Nyquist had 56 assists during the match.

The teams traded points to an 8-8 tie to open the third set. Warren then went on an 8-3 run to go up 16-11, then immediately followed it with a 4-1 series to take a 20-12 lead. Villa got a small rally to get within four at 20-16, but the Dragons clamped down and kept the match alive with a 25-17 win.

During the third, the Dragons began adjusting to the tipped balls and took away a major weapon for Victors not named Reiland.

“We started staying short and played up because they weren’t trying to push it deep,” Dolan said.

Warren raced out to a 7-3 lead to start the fourth. Villa rallied, but the Dragons were able to maintain a four-point, 13-9 advantage entering a Victors timeout.

This time, the break did little to slow the Dragons down. Reiland and Latimer traded big kills, but it was Latimer who began asserting herself at the net, sandwiching a block between a pair of kills to put the Dragons up 17-10.

The Victors again found a way to rally, getting to within three at 19-16 and 23-20, before making things really interesting at 23-21.

Villa had the serve and a short volley ensued. Reiland went for one of her strong kills, but Warren was able to get a hand on it. The tipped ball went to the back row but the attempted pass went awry and sailed toward the Dragon bench. Grace Wortman raced over and somehow kept the ball alive for Warren to put back over the net. The Dragons eventually won the point and put the set away on the next point for a 25-21 win and evening the match at 2-2.

“The girls looked confident. They looked like, ‘We got this,'” Dolan said of his team’s demeanor prior to the fifth set.

The confidence carried over to the court.

Despite Villa taking the first two points, Warren came back to tie the set at 5-5. The Dragons got up 9-7 to force a Victors timeout. Villa came out and scored the next three points to tie the game at 10 apiece. Warren would not be denied, however, as the Dragons closed out the set with a 15-12 win.

“Even after (being down 0-2), we still believed,” Dolan said. “We’ve had to figure out how to win this season and the girls are mentally tough. Villa’s a good team.”

The Dragons knew they would have to find a way to contend with Reiland, and the senior outside hitter was as advertised in this match. She finished with 37 kills, 22 digs and six aces.

“She’s a fantastic hitter,” Dolan said. “She’s better than I thought (after watching her play Saturday).”

Villa also got a strong performance from sophomore setter Kaitlyn Lipps (53 assists, 14 digs) and some unexpected scoring from Jessica Bernat (14 kills, 25 digs).

Warren countered with even stronger play from Latimer (22 kills, 15 digs, 6 blocks, 3 aces) and Ellie Lobdell (17 kills, 19 digs).

“Villa had no answer for Lydia and Ellie on the outside,” Dolan said.

Celia Chase (14 kills, 9 digs), Wortman (6 kills) and Jordan Sitler (6 kills) provided the secondary scoring and Julia Lobdell (13 digs) and Kelsey Dilks (3 digs) provided solid defense.

“Celia and Grace really came through and Jordan had some big hits,” Dolan said. “Our defense was really good.”

Lex Nyquist (56 assists, 13 digs, 1 block, 1 ace) masterfully set her teammates up all match.

“Lex was awesome,” Dolan said.

Warren will look to win the first District 10 volleyball title against General McLane Saturday (time and location to be announced). The Lancers swept Conneaut in the second semifinal match.

While certainly not taking General McLane for granted, Dolan is confident in his team’s ability to come out victorious.

“We have it down inside,” he said. “We just have to keep believing.”