PLYMOUTH — Wapahani volleyball coach Kati Weir says her team prides itself in playing great defense.
Saturday at the Class 2A Plymouth Semistate, the Raiders' defense was on full display for all to see, as Wapahani defeated Fairfield 3-0, to advance to the state finals next week at Ball State.
A young Fairfield team fought the favored Raiders all day, losing 25-19, 25-19 and 25-21, to close the season at 24-13.
Wapahani advances to next Saturday's state finals against Heritage Christian with a 31-5 record.
"We've relied on our defense throughout the season and today was no different,'' Weir said. "We don't have a lot of size, but our girls are very athletic and they can get to a lot of balls that some teams can't. Fairfield is a very good team with a lot of size and we believed coming in that our defense would be a huge part of the match today.''
Quite simply, the Raiders rarely let the ball hit the floor.
Led by libero Alyvia Smith and all-around player Mallory Summer, Wapahani fought for every point and rarely gave the Falcons open space for a kill.
"I loved the way we battled today, but Wapahani is a very good volleyball team,'' Falcon coach Brittany Herschberger said. "Obviously their defense is great, but they also have three main hitters that can jump well and they're able to place their shots anywhere on the court.''
Both teams battled nerves in an opening game that went back and forth until the very end. In fact, a kill by junior Kayla Miller and an ace by Sydney Stutsman pulled Fairfield within 21-19 and had a big Falcon fan contingent roaring.
Summers would stopped the run with a kill, followed by an ace from Emily Stewart to make it 23-19. A block and then a kill by freshman Chloe Cook would end the game at 25-19.
Wapahani jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the second game, as Summers dominated at the net.
But then Falcon senior Madeline Gawthrop had her best run of the match, coming up with a kill and two straight blocks to pull the Falcons within 13-11. After a side out stopped Fairfield's run, the Falcons promptly ran off three more points to tie the game at 14.
But just that quickly, the momentum switched again, as Wapahani scored the next seven points to take command once again. The Raiders would eventually lead 21-14 and 24-16, before closing out the 25-19 victory on a kill by Cook.
The Falcons had a good shot at getting back into the match with a win in the third game, but a strong comeback by the Raiders closed it out instead.
A combination of a few mistakes by Wapahani and strong play at the net helped the Falcons grab a commanding 16-9 lead and forced Weir to take a timeout.
That's when the momentum swung the other way.
"You would think having a nice lead like that was good, but for a team that's used to coming from behind like we are, it was a different dynamic,'' Herschberger admitted. "After Wapahani ran off a few points in a row, I could see it in our girls eyes. They were waiting for things to start going bad.''
Wapahani would score six straight and eventually pull to within 20-18, brining the Raider crowd back into it and forcing a timeout by Herschberger.
After a kill by freshman Brea Garber made it 21-18, Wapahani scored the next three points to tie it, before a kill by Madisyn Steele made it 22-21 Fairfield. But the Raiders would score the final four points, ending it on a kill by – who else – Summers.
Just prior to the start of the season, Fairfield had three potential starters quit the team. Herschberger would open the season with two girls who played on the C team in 2018, along with freshman Garber and Morgan Gawthrop in the rotation.
"It was an interesting start, but the girls really came together and now they've experienced something not many athletes get to do,'' Herschberger said of reaching the 2A Final Four. "It's quite a jump from the C Team to varsity, let alone from the eighth grade to the varsity, but they handled it very well and played great.
"This team has helped bring back the tradition of Fairfield volleyball. . and we're excited by what the future will bring.''
CLASS 2A PLYMOUTH SEMISTATE
WAPAHANI DEF. FAIRFIELD 25-19, 25-19, 25-22
Fairfield leaders: Kills: Madeline Gawthrop 9, Brea Garber 5. Assists: Sydney Stutsman 17. Blocks Gawthrop 4, Garber 2. Digs: Kate McGuire 16, Gawthrop 12, Kayla Miller 10.
Records: Wapahani 31-5, Fairfield 24-13.