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An inspired Bellmont volleyball squad answered the challenge of a game Western team to close out the first two games, then put away the Panthers with dominating power in the third game, 25-9, to earn the 12th regional championship for BHS Tuesday in front of the largest crowd of the season at the Teepee.
The victory puts Bellmont (32-4) up against 28-9 NorthWood in the second match at the Plymouth Semistate Saturday. Knox, 33-4, will meet 31-5 and No. 1 Yorktown in the 11 a.m. match. The winner Saturday night (7 p.m.) earns a slot in the state championship match set for Worthen Arena at Ball State on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 5:30 p.m.
The Squaws built solid leads of 12-3 in the opener and 13-6 in the second game, but had to pull it back together for 25-21, and 25-22 wins when the Panthers failed to buckle.
With Buffalo-bound (6-2) Sable Staller to spirit the Western effort, the Squaws front line had its best performance of the season as Madison Schultz powered in 11 kills with four solo blocks and four block assists, Alex Fuelling rifled in 19 kills and junior Payton Schultz racked down 15 kills.
"If we 'd have just cut down on the big gaps we could have competed a lot better," noted Western coach Lindsay Reinking, who guided the Panthers to their first sectional crown in 25 years in just her second year on the job.
"I have to say that Bellmont capitalized on all of our errors," noted Reinking.
"But I don't have anything bad to say about my girls. I'm so proud of them."
"They came to play, and that's not surprising at this level," said BHS coach Craig Krull.
"Credit us for jumping out in those first two game, then we had to hold on, had to be mentally tough when they closed the gap. That was the best part of this match for us, allowing our girls to show their mental toughness."
Staller was impressive, but she did not have her way with the BHS frontliners as time and again her shots were rejected or tipped and slowed. Fuelling scored three times early, including a floor-rattler for a 4-0 lead in the first game, then Madison Schultz blocked down a Staller shot. Sable finally put Western on the board with a block-kill at 6-1.
Madison Schultz got on a roll, scoring on a block, knocking the ball through Staller, then connecting hard to the floor for the 12-3 BHS lead.
Bellmont seemed to let off the gas a bit, and the Westerners charged right back. A Nicole Rogers block and a Staller kill made it 23-19, then the Squaws erred. Fuelling leaped high for a back-row kill to stop the bleeding, then Western's Taylor Young connected from the left side for a 24-21 count.
Emily Pierce put the game away with the final spike.
A Steph Shoup ace made it 8-4 in the second game and it was 13-6 after a Payton Schultz block.
However, Western eventually cut the lead to one. A Staller kill from the left side was followed by the Panthers taking a long volley on a hit by Young, who followed with another kill. Staller blocked a Payton Schultz attack to make it 22-21.
Payton roared right back with a block-kill of her own, and followed on the next play taking a short set from Shoup to deliver a kill. Rogers scored to cut the lead back to a pair, then Payton tapped the ball to the floor to end the game.
Seven straight service points by Chelsea Colclasure, who had 18 digs, an assist and an ace for the Squaws, put Western on the ropes in game three. After a Staller block made it 13-7, Fuelling found a hole and pushed the ball in, then followed with two straight knocks to the hardwood. Shoup then took a pass from Colclasure and directed it to the floor for a kill, adding to her 45 assists.
Fuelling went down the line from the left side for a score (18-7), then struck again. Madison found a hole for a point, Fuelling hit a rocket then Madison punched a long pass from Western to the floor for the 22-7 lead.
Maddy was called in the net on her next hit, but came right back and dropped on off the top of the net for a score.
"They battled, but we always found a way to push back," stated Maddy Schultz. "We knew it was going to No. 14 (Staller) every time, so we just adjusted to her and what she was doing."
Alex Fuelling noted that "this is exactly what we play for. They had a good block, but we did a good job of covering. No. 14 was all over, and we were all over her, and Steph did a good job of mixing our shots and we put the ball down," offered the standout outside hitter.
Staller finished with 11 kills, two blocks, two block-assists and 21 digs. Nicole Rogers and Taylor Ruch (12 digs) both offered 5 kills for Western. Jessie Meeks put up 17 assists and Taylor Young 3 kills, 2 aces and 15 digs.
Allison Gutierrez had 14 digs and 2 assists for Bellmont, now 32-4. Madison added four digs to her stat sheet. Alex brought up 9 digs with 2 aces and a block. Shoup had 5 digs, three blocks, an ace and 2 kills in an excellent all-around performance.
Emily Pierce scored 5 kills with 6 digs. Payton added 2 digs and an assist.
"I thought Payton stepped up her game and filled right in on her turn. Chelsea played phenomenally in the back row," praised Krull.
"Emily, Alex, Steph, Allison all did a great job of coming and doing what they are supposed to do to help us get our main goal," added the coach.