Jess Schwartz’s Lady Pirates knew they had their work cut out for them when they faced Tusky Valley, one of the most highly decorated area sports programs in any sport over the past two decades, in a Div. III district championship showdown on Oct. 27 at New Philadelphia High School.
So when the Lady P’s were all-even at 12 in game one, there was plenty of reason to be excited about the possibility of an upset win for the youthful Garaway group.
However, it was all Trojans after that as Tusky Valley started rolling and never stopped in earning a 25-15, 25-8, 25-10 victory to end Garaway’s successful campaign.
“This isn’t the same Tusky Valley team they have had in the past, but they are still very dangerous,” Schwartz said following the game. “We knew we would have to play very well to compete with them, and unfortunately we made too many mistakes and dug ourselves into some pretty big holes that we couldn’t overcome.”
The big start for Garaway gave them hope, but soon the Trojans’ talented and hard-hitting front line began taking over.
Game one seemed to end extremely quickly once Tusky Valley got rolling, and game two was all TV as they rolled to an easy win. Game three saw Garaway hanging tough early, earning a 4-4 tie, but that did not last long as the Trojans went on a 14-4 tear that basically put the game away.
TV then simply dominated the final two-thirds of the game, and what seemed just the blink of an eye later, the Trojans were jumping up and down celebrating in the New Philadelphia High School gymnasium after winning their fifth straight district title.
“Our motto this year is ‘Don’t forget about us,’” said Tusky Valley head coach Marianne Humphrey, whose team sports just two seniors. “I think with a new coach and a lot of youth people might not give us the respect we deserve. We believe that we have a really good team, and I thought we showed that tonight. We played some very good volleyball. We felt it was important to go out and finish this off in three games, and we did that. I think that sets a tone for the rest of the tournament, and it is important to have that kind of aggressive attitude.”
The Trojans improved to 22-2 on the season and advanced to play undefeated Wheelersburg (26-0). The Trojans entered this season having appeared at state three straight years. That streak seemed to be in jeopardy with such a young squad and with the early slow start, but Humphrey has helped them stay on course this season, just as she did in this game.
“Just keep winning,” Humphrey said about her team’s effort. In tournament time there is no better mantra.
Humphrey had huge praise for her team and handed out specific kudos to her two seniors, Jadyn Kuykendall and Sage Peters, as well as big-hitting freshman Taylor West.
“Taylor West is our freshman middle hitter who has made her presence known,” Humphries said. “I thought our two seniors really stepped up and showed good leadership, which is what you want at this time of the year.”
The Lady Pirates finished the season 15-11 overall and made it to a district final after having to hammer their way through an extremely difficult Inter-Valley Conference South schedule that saw them struggle to a 3-9 record.
Schwartz said that rugged schedule may have resulted in a bunch of losses, but it definitely prepared her team for the rigors of tournament play.
Liz Yoder led Garaway with 36 digs, and Baillie Donley and Andi Starner both tacked on 20 digs. Kori Gutheridge added four blocks while Brooklyn Frey added three blocks.
Schwartz said the season was a good learning opportunity for her core group of returning players. She also said the leadership and spirited play of her seniors, a group that included Donley, Emma Warkall, Caitlyn Miller, Gutheridge, Starner and Yoder, served as tremendous examples for her younger group. As a first-year coach with this group, Schwartz said she couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to coach.
“They gave us everything they had, and it was a learning process most of the year,” Schwartz said. “I was really pleased with the effort all of the girls gave, and I thought we came a long way in getting this program to where it deserves to be.”