FAIRBORN: There’s a large banner hanging in the Jackson High School main gymnasium. It’s in the shape of the state of Ohio and honors the 2010 boys’ basketball team that won the school’s first and — to this point — only state championship in any team sport.
Senior middle hitter Paige Hill can visualize the banner and one thought immediately comes to her mind.
“We can do that,” Hill said.
Hill and her teammates will go after their own state title at 1 p.m. today against Cincinnati Ursuline Academy in the Division I championship volleyball match at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Jackson, ranked No. 3 in the state coaches’ poll, improved to 28-1 and reached the final with a four-game win over Chagrin Falls Kenston in Thursday’s semifinal round. Sixth-ranked Ursuline (22-6) defeated No. 2 Toledo St. Ursula in four games in its semifinal.
It is Jackson’s first state volleyball final and the ninth for Ursuline. Jackson coach Jeff Walck took Tallmadge to six Division II state tournaments in the 1990s but never won a championship. His teams lost five times to Cincinnati St. Ursula, including four times in the final, during a run of six consecutive state titles for St. Ursula from 1993-98.
Hill and fellow seniors Laura Kelly, Karlie Diruzza, Kristin Cardwell and Maddy Busch were freshmen when Walck took over the program in 2009.
“They’ve gotten me back down here and I’m so proud of them,” Walck said. “I’ve just told the girls that we’re going to prepare you and, if we lose, it’s going to be on my shoulders because they listen. They buy into the system and they buy into each other.”
Hill had 19 kills against Kenston to push her season total to 352 and blocked four attacks to lead the Polar Bears into today’s championship. Hill has verbally committed to Miami University and this week was named first-team All-Ohio by the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association. Cardwell, the team’s setter who had 49 assists against Kenston to give her 805 for the season, was named third-team All-Ohio.
Jackson has the better record and the higher state ranking but these two teams appear nearly identical on paper. Ursuline’s top player is junior middle hitter Sam Fry, who has committed to Notre Dame and is also a first-team All-Ohio pick. Senior libero Courtney Grafton was a third-team All-Ohio choice and the Lions have been getting contributions from players throughout their lineup.
It’s the same formula that has worked for Jackson this season.
“That middle [Hill] is awesome and she is a lot of energy,” Ursuline coach Jeni Case said. “It will be an interesting match because I feel we’ve played a lot of teams that have had a good outside or right side but I don’t know if we’ve played against this good of a middle. They’re a lot like us.”
Jackson has lost just six of the 82 sets it has played this season in its 29 matches. The Polar Bears have responded well to tight situations, however. They rallied from 2-1 behind against Pickerington North to win the last two games in the regional championship. Against Kenston they shrugged off a marathon 33-31 loss in Game 3 to close out the match 25-11 in Game 4.
The teams have played two common opponents; both beat Dublin Coffman and both lost to Walsh Jesuit.
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.