FAIRBORN: Jackson’s dream volleyball season ended one match shy of the team’s ultimate goal Saturday afternoon. The Polar Bears dropped the Division I state championship match to Cincinnati Ursuline Academy in straight sets, 25-20, 25-16, 25-10 at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Jackson was ranked No. 3 in the final state coaches poll and had a 28-1 record coming into the match but was never able to find a consistent offensive flow against an Ursuline defense that held it to a kill efficiency of .077. Senior middle hitter Paige Hill had 11 kills and five blocks for Jackson, but the balance that propelled the Polar Bears past Chagrin Falls Kenston in Thursday’s semifinal match never materialized Saturday.
“We played fairly well in the first set but as we started to err, the confidence grew on the other side of the net and we all know, no matter what the sport, whenever the confidence grows and then nerves or tentativeness may come on the other side,” Jackson coach Jeff Walck said. “They started playing a little bit more aggressive and we started playing a little safe. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted and I feel like I let my girls down.”
Sixth-ranked Ursuline (23-6) won its fifth state title in 12 state tournament appearances, including two in the past four seasons. Jackson was making its first appearance in the state tournament.
“I’m proud of everyone on this team and what we’ve accomplished this year,” said senior libero Laura Kelly, who had 22 digs. “There is no reason for us to hang our heads. We did so well. We left everything out on that court.”
Jackson got out to a 7-2 lead in the first set behind three kills and one block by Hill. Ursuline found its legs and eventually tied the score at 10-10. There were a total of nine ties in the first set, the last at 20-20. Ursuline scored the final five points to take a 1-0 lead.
The second set featured 11 ties, the last one at 12-12, before Ursuline had runs of 4-0 and 6-0 to take control of the set and the match.
Ursuline scored the first six points of the third set and was never threatened. After having kill efficiencies of .163 in each of the first two sets, the Lions converted their attacks at a .393 rate in the third.
Jackson had lost just six out of 82 sets this season entering the state final, none by more than five points.
“It’s my job to prepare the team,” Walck said. “Obviously I didn’t do a good enough job because they played their hearts out. I’m not going to ask for more from my kids.”
Hill, who has committed to Miami University, was named first-team All-Ohio this week by the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association. Ursuline junior middle blocker Sam Fry was also named to the first team. Jackson wasn’t able to match Ursuline’s balance on offense or defense. Fry and junior Paige Kebe each had 11 kills for Ursuline. The Lions had 74 digs compared to 52 for Jackson. All 12 Ursuline players had at least one dig, led by senior libero Courtney Grafton with 28.
“I’m very defensive-oriented but I would say this is the best defense we’ve played just being ready, balancing the court and anticipating where the ball is going to go,” Ursuline coach Jeni Case said. “They’re a very good team but we brought our A game.”
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