Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, sports, the outdoors, and music; and he has a degree from the school of music at Ohio State University.

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How close were the #1 and #2 teams in the state in Division IV?  So close that you couldn’t look away, and in the end, the biggest deficit of the match for either team was…four points.

St. Henry – It was billed by those who pay attention to such things as the possible clash of regional finalists, or state semi-finalists, or depending on how they wrench the brackets come state tournament time…state finalists, as with last year and Coldwater meeting Versailles for the Division III title – two teams from the same league.

It was #1-ranked St. Henry (11-1) vs. #2 New Bremen (8-1), the two teams so close in the latest Ohio Volleyball Coaches Association poll that only seven points separated them.  And as it turned out, closer than that when they actually played.  So close that if you blinked you might have missed something.  So close…that in the entire four-set match the largest deficit for either team was just four points in a 3-1 St. Henry win Thursday night – 25-22, 27-29, 25-21, and 25-23.

It marked the first loss of the season for defending state champion New Bremen, a team that has lived on the edge at times this fall while learning to win collectively, and without the remarkable talents of last year’s top Division IV player, Paige Jones.  And Thursday the edge, finally, proved to be their undoing, as uncharacteristically the Cardinals simply gave away too many easy points, including a remarkable sixteen service errors –  seven in the first game alone.

It left coach Diana Kramer frustrated, but willing to take personal responsibility for their failing.

“I take full responsibility,”  said Kramer.  “It was the difference in the match and I take responsibility for it because my coaching style is high risk, and high reward.  So it’s no one’s fault but mine.  I’ve got to do a better job of preparing my players when they go to the service line in big games.  It’s on me, we had a tough night with the serve, but credit St. Henry because they took advantage.”

An edge always has two sides, of course, and Thursday the other side amounted to St. Henry’s remarkable ability to play defense.  In customary fashion the ‘Skins got to balls before they could touch the court.  They blocked shots and extended volleys to make the defending champs work for every point they got.  Nothing came easy, and in the end one had the sense that it eventually took a toll.

Bremen libero Blake Snider saves a point with a dig in Tuesday’s match with #1 St. Henry.  (Photo by Sonny Fulks)

“They’re a really good team,” said junior outside hitter Hanna Bruns, of New Bremen.  “But our team really stepped up tonight.  Our defense was really good.”

That’s an understatement, of course.  The defense is ALWAYS good.

“I think they missed some serves, but I think they played really well, too,”  added Bruns.

And when apprised of the fact that no one led by more than four points throughout the match, Bruns had no idea, because she admitted…she never pays attention to the score.

“Wow, that’s really crazy, but I had no idea,”  she said with a satisfied smile.  “I never pay attention to what the score is, I just pay attention to the game.”

Points came tough, yes, but leads came tougher.  For St. Henry, Bruns and libero Ashlyn Gerlach patroled the back row to make sure that balls that didn’t go out of the court didn’t hit the court, either.  To make her case, Gerlach finished with a match-high 26 digs for the night.  Teammates Bruns and Addy Vaughn each added 20.

On the other side, Bremen libero Blake Snider was equally focused on keeping the ball in play – and getting it to her front line where hitters at the net could do their damage.  But to the point of the match…too many mistakes with balls hit out of bounds, and likely for the fact that St. Henry’s defense simply made them play more aggressively than they could.

For New Bremen Jose Reinhart had 10 kills, Macy Puthoff had 9 kills and 12 digs, Claire Pape had 8, and Madison Pape had 20 assists.

St. Henry libero Ashlyn Gerlach had a match-high 26 digs.  (Photo by Jill Olynyk)

“Just two great teams playing each other,”  said St. Henry coach Tricia Rosenbeck.  “We’d get a lead and they’d catch back up.  They’d get a lead and we’d catch back up.  So it was just a back and forth match where both teams played well.  I just think we found a way at the end to finish it.

“Any time you can beat New Bremen it’s super exciting.  I know it gives our girls a big confidence boost because we haven’t done it in two years.  So I know the girls are very excited and they played a great game.  I’m very proud of them.”

Girl talk…New Bremen’s Macy Puthoff (above, left) and Claire Pape celebrate a point in the Cardinals game two win.  (Photo by Jill Olynyk)

And to the point of losing their first match, Diana Kramer was well aware that nearly a year ago to the date her team suffered its only loss of the season (to Fort Recovery) and went on to win the state title.  No one died as a result of that loss, and she doesn’t expect a hangover from Thursday’s hiccup, either.

“We absolutely will benefit from this experience, because it happened to us last year and that was the best thing that could have happened to us,”  said Kramer.  “Our schedule is very tough, and it’ll make us better.  We’ll live to see tomorrow, we’ll get better, and too many people get hung up on having that #1 or #2 ranking.  But at the end of the day if you ask Versailles the rankings don’t mean anything.  They can still win state with six losses.  So my message to my team is…tomorrow’s a new day.

“I’m not upset with how we played tonight.  I thought we played well.  I thought St. Henry played well.  Their coach is probably one of the top five coaches in the state and hats off to her team. But hats off to my team, too, because it was a battle and the fans got their money’s worth.  I just hope for a rematch.”

Everyone who saw Thursday match hopes for a rematch, and don’t take the rankings lightly.  If they’re still #1 and #2 when it comes…it only adds to the hype.

As if they’d need more!

New Bremen’s Ashton Heitkamp snaps a shot across the net during Tuesday’s match with St. Henry.  (Photo by Jill Olynyk)

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