BENTON — Typically powerful Fairfield’s latest stellar volleyball season, spiked with challenges, ended with a bit of a limp, but, hey, at least junior Kelsey Schiffli could probably relate to that part.
The Falcons staggered out of the gate in their Class 3A regional championship against Fort Wayne Concordia and never fully recovered while falling to the Cadets 25-8, 25-20, 25-27, 25-18 on Tuesday, Oct. 29.
While coach Carla Herschberger was disappointed in the closing performance, she still applauded a group that went 29-8 with a No. 6 state rating on the heels of heavy graduation losses last spring. It came, too, with Schiffli virtually never at full strength.
“We had times where we were only playing with one person who played last year, because Haley (Brown) and Sierra (Smith) are both middle hitters,” Herschberger said. “Kelsey played some, too, last year, but she has a torn (posterior cruciate ligament) on one leg and on the other she has a sprained ankle. She got hurt against Wawasee (the second match of the fall) and then got hurt in the middle of the season playing with it, then last week in practice got the sprain, so my other person with varsity experience couldn’t really move.”
None of that was meant as an excuse Tuesday — pointed out Herschberger, “(Concordia’s) younger than us” — just as a recap upon solicitation.
The coach’s recap also included a salute to her seniors, including a four-year starter in Brown and a player who’s made gigantic strides in Smith.
“Brownie, she’s been special, and Sierra, if you remember anything about her freshman year, you probably think I was crazy for even keeping her,” Herschberger said. “And even her sophomore year, I remember my daughter, Brittany, was coaching with me, and I put Sierra in and put Ellen Line (now playing at the University of Indianapolis) outside. Then I said I’m putting Ellen back in the middle, and Brittany said, ‘You gotta keep Sierra there. You’ll be glad.’ And I am glad. I can’t wait for her to get to college, where the play around her will be more consistent. I think she’s going to blossom in college.”
Smith plans to play at Grace, while Brown is bound for Bethel. The two combined for 23 kills Tuesday.
Other Fairfield seniors include libero Erin Carlos, who particularly dazzled Concordia coach Tricia Miller, and starting setter Leah Wimmer, who had some of the more spectacular plays on either side when volleys became extended.
None of that was enough, though, to solve the seventh-ranked Cadets (27-7), who advanced to a semifinal spot opposite No. 3 New Prairie in Saturday’s loaded Plymouth Semistate. The other semi sends top-rated Marian against No. 5 Bellmont.
Led by sleek, 6-foot-2 junior and University of Wisconsin recruit Tionna Williams, who finished with 24 kills and four blocks, Concordia blistered Fairfield in the opening set and led most of a sloppy second in which the Falcons had four service errors and five violations.
“You can’t miss as many serves as we did in the second game and expected to beat any team, let alone a good team,” Herschberger said. “At this point in the season, you gotta bring it every game, and we didn’t.”
Especially the first one.
“I have three different teams,” Herschberger said. “One is very good, one is pretty good and one is horrible — and that’s the one that came that first game — and when you start off with your horrible team, it’s hard to come back. We never brought our very good team, but I am really proud of the way the girls did fight back with what we had.”
In the third set, Fairfield scrapped to a 27-25 win that featured seven ties. The Falcons saw a 23-20 lead dissolve into a 25-24 hole, but recovered, getting the final two points of the set on a Smith block and Lauren Streit ace.
Concordia responded by jumping to a 14-5 advantage in the fourth set, with Fairfield getting no closer than five points the rest of the way.
“Our passing and serving were just a little bit gone tonight,” Herschberger said, “and that’s the backbone of our team.”
“I honestly love playing them,” Miller said of the Falcons, “because Carla, whether she has a young team or a veteran team, always has her kids ready. You know it’s going to be a battle. They make you rise to the occasion. I just respect her and her program so much, so it’s always a joy to beat them.”
The teams were meeting in the regional for the third straight year. For the third straight year, the match went at least four sets, and for the third straight year, the visiting team won, including Fairfield a year ago.
3A Regional at Fairfield
FW Concordia def. Fairfield 25-8, 25-20, 25-27, 25-18
Top Concordia players: Aces — Audrey Kruse 1, Erica Shively 1, Rachel Kammeyer 1. Assists — Kammeyer 32, Kara Bowersox 13. Kills — Tionna Williams 24, Dejour Young 13. Blocks — Williams 4, Te’Ayla Whitfield 2. Digs — Grace Miller 29, Young 23.
Top Fairfield players: Aces — Erin Carlos 1, Lauren Streit 1, Leah Wimmer 1. Assists — Wimmer 31. Kills — Haley Brown 13, Sierra Smith 10, Hannah Siegel 9. Blocks — Brown 3, Smith 2, Siegel 2. Digs — Lauren Streit 17, Carlos 16, Kelsey Schiffli 14.
Records: Concordia 27-7, Fairfield 29-8.
Next: Bellmont vs. Marian, 11 a.m., New Prairie vs. FW Concordia, to follow, Saturday, Nov. 2, in semifinals of Class 3A Plymouth Semsistate; 7 p.m. championship.