CENTERVILLE — Sometimes good just isn’t good enough.
Sometimes you also have to be lucky, which the Mount Vernon High School boys volleyball team wasn’t on Sunday. A day after winning their first state quarterfinal match in school history, the Yellow Jackets tasted defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Moeller Crusaders.
The Crusaders came out on fire in the Division I State Semifinal at Centerville High School on Sunday, and eliminated Mount Vernon in three games, 25-18, 25-23, 27-25. The win sent Moeller into the state final on Sunday night against rival Cincinnati Elder, which beat Hilliard Darby in four games on Sunday.
“We’re really excited to win, but our motivation didn’t come from Mount Vernon,” said Moeller coach Greg Ulland. “We knew how great of team they were. We have the ultimate respect for their program and their players. We just tried to motivate ourselves by taking care of the ball and playing our best. I don’t know if we can play any better than what we just did.”
Mount Vernon (24-4) coach Alan Cassell, obviously disappointed, said, “We expected [a match like this from Moeller]. There is a reason why they are in the state tournament every year. We probably made more mistakes in the first two games than we had all year. Our passing wasn’t real good; we had a lot of service errors. They are a very good team.”
Mount Vernon never gained control against the Crusaders, who split two matches with the Jackets already this season. Moeller jumped ahead, 9-5, in Game 1 in part due to several Mount Vernon errors, but strong play at the net stretched the lead to 16-9. Mount Vernon battled back, but Moeller finished off the game, 25-18.
“I’m not real sure [what caused the errors], but we had a pretty emotional win against Centerville,” said coach Cassell. “I don’t know if that hurt us or what. There were several fundamental things that got away from us. It was stuff we hadn’t done all year.”
Game 2 proved to be just as tough for Mount Vernon as Moeller slowly inched ahead. Another series of errors opened up a small lead for the Crusaders, which they held for several serves. Mount Vernon managed to tie the game at 16 on an ace by Ben Bennett, but Moeller ripped off an 8-2 run to pull within game point. A net serve gave the Jackets the ball back, and Mount Vernon managed to pull within one, 24-23 on blocks by Chris Omahan and Ben Bennett. Moeller got the win, however, after a Jacket block failed to stop a kill.
“We knew that our challenge was no lesser than it was when we walked out onto the court,” Ulland told his team after Game 2. “[Mount Vernon] was no less capable of beating us three consecutive games.”
That put the Jackets in a 0-2 hole, but they didn’t give in. Mount Vernon got kills from Chris Ingersol and Omahan to pull ahead, 6-4, early in Game 3, but that’s as far as the Jackets could get ahead. Moeller traded serves with the Jackets before pulling even at 11. That came in the midst of a 7-2 run by the Crusaders, who took a 16-13 lead and forced a Mount Vernon timeout.
Carter Cassell slammed two kills and had a block to stop the run and pull Mount Vernon even at 16, but two errors put Moeller back on top. The Jackets kept fighting, though, and put together a 6-1 run to take a 22-19 lead. Moeller called a timeout to regroup, and following it, put together a 5-2 run to knot the score at 24. Ingersol slammed a kill to put Mount Vernon back on top, but a dig out of bounds gave Moeller the momentum back. The Crusaders took advantage and scored the final two points to win the match and advance.
The loss was tough, especially coming off a four-game win, 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, over Centerville on Saturday night. It was the Yellow Jackets’ first state tournament win.
“This is great,” said coach Cassell after the match. “The kids worked hard and we had a great week of practice. We came in confident. It is a tremendous win for our program.”
Mount Vernon senior Ben Miglin said, “This is huge. We’ve been waiting for this all year. We’ve got a few players that have been here three times and never won. I don’t think we have ever been more pumped up for a match. It is great to get here and get this win, finally.”
Centerville (21-6) gave Mount Vernon a challenge, but each time, the Jackets answered the call. The result was two solid wins to open the match. In Game 3, however, the Elks got on top early and Mount Vernon could never overtake them. Centerville went on to win by four, forcing a fourth game. Once again, the Elks took the lead early, but this time Mount Vernon rallied behind the serving of Miglin to take a solid lead and coasted to a match win.
“We knew that they were going to be a good team because we played them earlier in the season,” said Miglin. “We came out as hard as we could in those first two games, and in that third game, we were a little down. They got us in that game but we came back in the fourth because we knew that they would have the crowd’s momentum.”
The key for Mount Vernon was making some adjustments from the first time it had beaten Centerville in four games.
“We beat them once before, so we just tried to practice against some big hitters because they are a big, strong team,” Coach Cassell said. “They hit the ball hard; we tried to do some special things to combat that, and our kids played hard.
“We started a different rotation than we had all season. We tried to do a little matchup with their players based upon what we saw before, and it seemed to work. They started playing better, started hitting the ball harder, and we had to really work for it.”
With the season over, Mount Vernon will have time to reflect, but coach Cassell knows it is the end of an era. Replacing seven seniors will not be an easy task.
“It is going to be real tough (to replace the seniors),” said coach Cassell. “This was a special group, skilled at volleyball as well as just special young men. We’ve got a lot of juniors and sophomores that are going to work hard to get back here next year.”