OSSIAN — NorthWood's volleyball team appeared on the verge of celebrating its first regional title since 2010 on Saturday.
Instead, the Panthers failed to finish in a crushing loss to Bellmont in a Class 3A regional final at Norwell High School.
The Squaws, who improved their record to 24-10, rallied past the Panthers, 20-25, 13-25, 25-18, 25-20, 15-6.
"It just sucks," said NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig. "There's really no other words to describe it. You feel that. I felt like we let a couple calls really change our momentum."
Early in the match, the Panthers showed the ability to finish and to dominate.
In the first game, NorthWood went on a 6-1 run to end the game. The final Panthers point came on a Bellmont service error.
The Panthers then went on a 13-3 run at the end of the second game.
"To me it was just a matter of determination," said Bellmont coach Craig Krull. "We didn't come to play in the first two sets. We had to find a way to put a chink in NorthWood's armor."
In the third game is when you could sense that happening, as the momentum started shifting to Bellmont. Meg Saalfrank's kill gave the Squaws a 10-9 lead and it was the start of a 9-2 run by Bellmont. NorthWood pulled within 21-17, but wouldn't get any closer.
NorthWood struggled without standout Maddy Payne on the court. She had six kills and NorthWood led 18-16 when Payne went to the bench because of lineup rotations.
With Payne sitting, Bellmont rallied to win the fourth game.
"We just couldn't put the ball away," Laidig said. "(Bellmont) did a great job. They're really scrappy and really athletic. They're a momentum team big-time. When things swing their way they're really successful."
Bellmont led 5-3 in the fifth game after a Payne kill in the fifth set. Payne then went to the bench and the Squaws dominated the rest of the game to win the match. The final point was a block by Sarah Noonan that wasn't returned by NorthWood.
"We kind of chipped away in the third set, fourth set and fifth set," Krull said. "You could tell we were in control at the end."
It was the third straight five-game match won by Bellmont. The Squaws accomplished that feat in the sectional final and in the regional final on Saturday against Angola.
Payne finished with 17 kills in her final high school game for NorthWood. Caroline Mullet had 37 assists.
Sophie Krull had nine kills and Emilee Scheumann added eight to lead the Squaws offensively.
NorthWood finishes at 32-4, with those wins being a school record.
"Our girls played really, really hard," Laidig said. "I just thought we let a couple things swing the momentum and it was hard to bring it back.
"We just weren't playing loose and relaxed and that's when our girls play their best."
NorthWood advanced into the finals after beating Northwestern 26-24, 25-16, 25-22, in the semifinals.
The Panthers erased a 24-23 deficit in the first game and a 20-17 deficit in the third game.
Payne had 19 kills and Mullet totaled 39 assists for NorthWood.
CLASS 3A NORWELL REGIONAL
BELLMONT DEF. NORTHWOOD 20-25, 13-25, 25-18, 25-20, 15-6
NorthWood leaders: Aces - Alison Knepp 2, Kennedy Hochstetler 1. Assists - Caroline Mullet 37. Kills - Maddy Payne 17, Kate Rulli 4, Knepp 3. Blocks - Payne 13, Rulli 7, Mullet 5, Alea Minnich 5, Knepp 3. Digs - Hochstetler 13, Macy Lengacher 12, Kendal Miller 7, Mullet 6, Grace Clark 4, Knepp 3.
Bellmont leaders: Aces - Rachel McBride 2, Sarah Noonan 2, Paige Busick 1, Sophie Krull 1, Meg Saalfrank 1. Assists - Noonan 47. Kills - Krull 9, Emilee Scheumann 8, Avery Ball 6, Liz Scheumann 5, Saalfrank 5. Blocks - Saalfrank 12, Liz Scheumann 8, Emilee Scheumann 5, Ball 3, Noonan 3. Digs - Emma McMahon 10, McBride 8, Krull 4, Busick 4, Noonan 2.
NORTHWOOD DEF. NORTHWESTERN 26-24, 25-16, 25-22
NorthWood leaders: Aces - Grace Clark 3, Ali Knepp 2. Assists - Caroline Mullet 39. Kills - Maddy Payne 19, Knepp 7, Mullet 7. Blocks - Payne 2, Alana Lehman 2. Digs - Kendal Miller 16, Clark 13.