When Michael Von Der Vellen made the move from the bench to the court, one thought came to mind: “Don’t mess up.”
The Alter junior had big shoes to fill stepping into the pivotal role as setter for the defending Division II state champion Knights after three-year starter and co-captain Max Miller injured his ankle late in the season.
“It’s fun, but it’s been tough and there has definitely been some pressure,” Von Der Vellen said. “I wanted to do it for the seniors.”
Von Der Vellen was up to the challenge as he has helped the Knights win six of their last seven matches, none as big as Saturday’s D-II regional final. Alter (20-3) topped Fenwick, 25-18, 25-16, 25-20, at Centerville High School to earn a return trip to the state tournament.
“He has done a tremendous job stepping up,” Alter coach Craig Erford said. “It was hard losing Max, but a lot of kids stepped up, elevating their game and their leadership.”
Senior co-captain Matt Vandenbrock led by example Saturday, posting a team-leading 13 kills and 12 digs. Von Der Vellen tallied 37 assists and five digs in the straight-set win.
After spending several frustrating weeks on the bench, Miller has been cleared to play and will likely see action when the Knights take the court in the state tournament at Capital University on Saturday.
Division I: Beavercreek, with a state-high team grade-point average of 4.036, faced a familiar foe in Lakota East. One year earlier, the Thunderhawks edged the Beavers in a five-set regional final, but this time it was the Beavers who came out on top, 25-21, 25-15, 25-13, to earn a coveted state berth.
“This is a very intelligent team and they play smart,” Beavercreek coach Carol Bysak said.
There was also that extra motivation of payback, one year in the making, especially for the seven returning players.
“These boys have worked hard all year with one focus and one focus only — going to state,” Bysak said.
It will be the Beavers’ third trip since 2011. They bowed out in the semifinals in 2011 and 2013.
Senior middle blocker Dan Lohner led the 21-5 Beavers with 13 kills and five blocks.
Back in the big show: In other regional final action, host Centerville defeated Fairmont 25-18 , 25-22, 26-24. The veteran Elks, now 18-8, with eight seniors on the roster, will make their first state appearance since 2011.