LAKEVILLE — As part of every practice drill this fall, just like at every workout this past summer, the Fairfield Falcons have faithfully chanted “state, state, state.”
It’s been an ambitious rallying cry for a group that didn’t even win the sectional last year and for a program that hadn’t gotten out of a regional since 2012.
Now count it as a cry that’s just one victory from fruition after the Falcons rallied to shade Andrean 14-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-22 in Saturday night’s stirring Class 2A LaVille Regional volleyball final at Dale Cox Gymnasium.
“We all started to believe in the summer,” undersized but savvy junior hitter Kayla Miller said amid postgame hugs, shrieks and photographs. “The coaches have worked our butts off in practice, and that’s all we need, that push that we get from the coaches and that belief they have in us.”
“We’ve been talking about it since last season,” second-year head coach Brittany Herschberger said of making a state push. “It’s not unattainable if we’re working really hard. They worked hard in the summer and they come in really early for morning workouts.”
Unranked Fairfield (24-12) won its season-high seventh straight match to earn a spot opposite No. 2 Wapahani (30-5) in next Saturday’s 1 p.m. 2A northern semistate at Plymouth.
That survivor advances to the 2A state championship the following Saturday at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
“It’s been a tough season and we’ve had some hard matches, but those matches have helped us come to this point,” senior Madeline Gawthrop said after leading the way against the 59ers with 16 kills.
Hard matches remained the norm on a dicey, yet rewarding Saturday for the Falcons.
While Andrean (21-13) swept past Boone Grove 25-14, 25-20, 25-13 in the semifinal round, Fairfield narrowly survived its semi with a topsy-turvy 25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 23-25, 15-7 win over Rochester.
Miller, though, cited the team’s stay between matches at Gawthrop’s aunt and uncle’s home, “about 15, 20 minutes” from LaVille, as something that “refreshed” the Falcons.
“We were able to go somewhere close, take a nap, shower if we wanted,” Miller said after notching eight kills in the final, “so today was just a great experience.”
“We knew we were going to be tired,” Gawthrop said, “so we had to regenerate some energy and save it. We ate some food, rehydrated, got some rest and knew we had to come back strong against Andrean.”
The 59ers dominated the first set anyway, running off seven straight points for a 10-4 lead and eventually leading by as many as 14.
“I think the first set was just nerves,” Gawthrop said. “We just had to calm ourselves down.”
“That first game was a little bit scary,” Herschberger acknowledged, “but we’ve been a slow-starting team all year, so I had confidence that we’d come back and be steady and outlast their team.”
The coach cited Miller and sophomore Kate McGuire, who had a team-high 27 digs, as pivotal players in shifting the tide after the opening set.
“They really turned our passing and our defense around,” Herschberger said. “They were making a lot of cover plays that kept us in those long rallies and made it tough for (Andrean) to find the floor.”
“We practice a lot on sticking with the play and not letting anything drop,” said Gawthrop, who recorded 18 digs. “We have this one (drill) called ‘Defense is Queen,’ and it’s basically don’t let the ball hit the floor. We go after everything, and I think it really helped us today.”
Down 22-21 in the second set and on the cusp of a 2-0 hole, Fairfield scored the next four points to square the match, including kills by Gawthrop and junior Madisyn Steele, sandwiched around a spectacular diving save by McGuire that turned into a winning rally.
Freshman middle hitter Brea Garber, who “doesn’t play like a freshman,” according to Herschberger, delivered four kills and a block winner in the third set to help the Falcons take that one.
Fairfield trailed 17-15 in the decisive set, which featured five Gawthrop kills, before closing the match on a 10-5 run.
The daughter of Falcon coaching giant Carla Herschberger – who guided the program to 10 sectional titles, six regional crowns and two state runner-up finishes from 2001 to 2013 – Brittany becomes the first Fairfield volleyball boss besides her mom to capture a regional.
“We’ve been talking about getting back that culture of expecting to go to the next level,” said the younger Herschberger, who played for the Falcons and later became an assistant. “It feels really good to be building that again.”
CLASS 2A LAVILLE REGIONAL
FAIRFIELD def. ANDREAN 14-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-22.
Fairfield leaders: Aces — Brea Garber 2. Assists — Sydney Stutsman 37. Kills — Madeline Gawthrop 16, Madisyn Steele 9, Garber 8, Kayla Miller 8. Blocks — Steele 4. Digs — Kate McGuire 27, Gawthrop 18.
Records: Fairfield 24-12, Andrean 21-13.
Next: Fairfield vs. Wapahani in 2A northern semistate Saturday, Nov. 2, at Plymouth, 1 p.m.
FAIRFIELD def. ROCHESTER 25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 23-25, 15-7.
Fairfield leaders: Aces — Brea Garber 5. Assists — Sydney Stutsman 50. Kills — Madeline Gawthrop 21, Garber 12. Blocks — Madisyn Steele 4, Garber 3. Digs — Gawthrop 26, Kate McGuire 22.
Other semifinal: Andrean def. Boone Grove 25-14, 25-20, 25-13.
Records: Rochester 21-13, Boone Grove 24-10.