GAHANNA — When Mount Vernon volleyball coach Alan Cassell put together the schedule for this year’s team, he was hoping it would pay dividends in the end.
The Yellow Jackets faced some of the toughest competition in the state day-in and day-out. Their record wasn’t one of their better ones, but Cassell knew the tough competition would make his team better.
Saturday, the hard work and tough schedule paid off handsomely for the Jackets, who beat Bishop Watterson, 25-18, 25-18, 25-27, 18-25, 15-11, to win the Division II East Regional tournament. The Jackets will now advance to the state Final Four this coming Saturday, where they will play Cincinnati Roger Bacon at 11:45 a.m. at Cincinnati Moeller High School.
“All season long we have played the toughest D1 schools we could schedule to get us ready for today,” said Cassell. “Sometimes the results weren’t what we wanted but after playing such schools as St. Edwards, Elder, St. Ignatius and all the traditional powers in the Columbus area, we feel like we are ready for anything.”
The Jackets (16-10) looked like world beaters in the first two sets of their match with Watterson, the second-ranked team in the state. They rolled to identical 25-18 victories and were able to control the pace of the play.
“The key was starting with some intensity. Then, we want to keep that intensity up as long as we can,” said assistant coach Grant Cassell.
“Everybody just kind of rallied together and played as a team,” said senior Josiah Burney.
Watterson (20-6), which won the first meeting between the two teams, changed things up in their offensive attack in an effort to get back in the match after losing the first two sets.
The third set was a barn-burner with both teams making big runs before the Eagles pulled out the win. Watterson kept the momentum up to win the fourth and force a final set for the championship.
“The back row hits are not expected; blocking them is not easy. If you get a good hit from the back row, it’s pretty much a guaranteed kill,” said senior hitter Cole Shoemaker. “Defensively, you use triple blocks, go up there strong and really try to push a wall in their face.”
“In the back row, when they’re swinging like that, you have to stay intense. It’s usually on a play that’s chaotic and we’re all out of position, so you have to make sure you get back in position,” said senior libero Dan Eddy.
Mount Vernon got off to a good start in the final set and then scored four of the final five points to win the match and start the celebrations.
“We just settled down and played our game. We knew we could beat them if we played our game,” said senior setter Bryan Downs.