By SCOTT COTTOS
DAYTON — Tiffin Calvert’s Senecas kept their cool.
Now they have a chance for something as cool as it gets — a state championship.
Calvert blew open the first set with a 13-0 run and freshman Emma White led a brigade of hitters with nine kills on the day as the Senecas rolled past Portsmouth Clay 25-10, 25-13, 25-16 on Thursday in a Division IV state volleyball semifinal at Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center.
Calvert, ranked 13th in the final Division IV coaches poll, will take a 25-3 record into Saturday’s 11 a.m. state championship match against third-ranked New Bremen (23-4), which rallied from two games down to stop Monroeville 19-25, 23-25, 25-19, 25-20, 15-10 in the other Division IV semifinal.
Both the Senecas and Clay (24-4) were making their first appearance in the state tournament. Calvert, which has won 15 straight sets, may have handled the experience a touch better than the Panthers.
“I’m proud of these girls,” first-year Senecas coach Lori Rombach said. “We did a lot of work to prepare the girls to be composed for this game and, as a coach, I felt we took the court with pretty good composure. I reached out to a couple of veteran coaches for some advice and some of the best advice I received as a coach was the team that makes the least amount of errors and takes the court ready to play is going to be the team that wins.
“Those are the two things I tried to focus on all week with our team — to be consistent players and we don’t need to do anything special, we just need to keep the ball on the court; and believe that we deserve to be here. Take the court with composure and confidence. And I felt like our girls took the court with good composure and some nice confidence across the board.”
It certainly wasn’t just another match on the Senecas’ schedule, but they tried to treat it like one.
“We just told each other it’s just like any other game. … We had to play it like any other game we’ve had all season,” said sophomore Ashlyn Jones, who had four kills to go with a team-high 14 digs.
Clay coach Sarah Hammond felt like the match was not officiated like any other her club had been in, questioning a few lift calls made against setter Lila Brown early in the match.
“If you have an all-Ohio setter on your team and they call it 10, 12 times in a row there, it kind of ruins your momentum for the game,” Hammond said, exaggerating the number of violations. “She hadn’t been called on it all year long. That definitely gave Tiffin the momentum from there on out.”
Calvert never trailed again in the set after two straight lift calls against Brown brought a 10-8 advantage. The Senecas then went on their long run, which included four stuff blocks by 5-foot-10 senior Zoe Meyer.
“They were able to take that momentum and run their offense very nicely,” Hammond said. “I’ll give them props for their offensive attack.”
Lexie White had three kills and an ace in the second set, and Jones put away three kills.
In the third set, the Panthers rallied from trailing 12-6 to draw within 16-14, but two straight Emma White kills pushed the lead to 18-14. Clay scored the next point, but two Emma White kills, a kill and a stuff block by Kate Rombach and a Jones kill extended the count to 22-16 before the Senecas put the match away.
Lexie White and Meyer backed Emma White for Calvert with seven and six kills, respectively, and Meyer added five blocks. Sophie Burtis handed out 18 assists, with Emma White adding four. Shelby Hemminger followed Jones in digs with 10.
Jensen Warnock and Delanie Gilliland had seven kills apiece for the Panthers, with Taylor Lewis adding six kills, three blocks and an ace. Brown ended up with 22 assists. Shae Vassar and Skylar Artis came up with 18 and 17 digs, respectively.