The Fenwick High School girls volleyball team celebrates its five-set win over Gilmour Academy in the Division II state semifinals Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center. Debbie Juniewicz/CONTRIBUTED

Fenwick outlasts Gilmour Academy in five sets to reach state volleyball finals

The Falcons set the tone with a 25-16 first-set win in the Division II semifinals against Gilmour Academy at the Wright State University Nutter Center on Thursday. The No. 1 ranked Falcons were back in the state final four after bowing out in the semifinals a year earlier.

“We’ve been on a mission for a year for this,” Fenwick coach Tyler Conley said.

The mission isn’t over yet, but the Falcons moved one step closer with a hard-fought, five-set win over the Lancers, 25-16, 17-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-12.

“Last year was a huge motivator for us,” senior defensive specialist Emma Schaefer said. “We’re happy with this, but not satisfied.”

The Falcons, who had not dropped a set through five postseason matches, finally faced a challenge in the Lancers. Gilmour is no stranger to the state tournament as the Lancers won the D-III title in 2015 and have been runner-up five times since 2008.

With a focus on aggressive play, the Lancers battled back to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five semifinal match. Set four was a must-win for the Falcons but Gilmour maintained the momentum, forcing Conley to call a timeout trailing 16-12.

“I told them ‘we’re not done yet, go out and fight for one another,’” he said.

The Falcons still had plenty of fight. A balanced offensive attack, along with an ace by senior outside hitter Julia Gardon and some timely blocks helped Fenwick flip the deficit into a 19-17 lead.

“They did what they needed to do, they fought back,” Gilmour coach Danny Coughlin said.

The even-keeled Falcons took the set. After more than 90 minutes of volleyball, the first team to 15 would move on. Conley was confident in his veteran squad with eight seniors on the roster.

“There weren’t a lot of highs and lows, they just kept doing their job,” he said. “It’s a huge credit to them, they just do their thing no matter what’s going on.”

Gilmour rattled off the first three points in the fifth set and jumped out to a 7-4 lead, but the Falcons appeared unfazed. One point at a time, they chipped away at the Lancers’ lead.

“As soon as they tied that game, their excitement went way up,” Coughlin said of the Falcons.

A late run, fueled by senior middle hitter Elizabeth Hoerlein, helped the Falcons muster their first lead of the set at 10-9. They never trailed again.

“This may be the best match we’ve ever been part of,” Conley said.

Fenwick, now 27-1, will face Highland, 25-4, in the championship match Saturday at 1 p.m. The Fighting Scots – in their first state appearance – toppled defending state champion Holy Name in a marathon five-set match, 25-23, 28-26, 20-25, 13-25, 15-9.

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