Wesleyan’s Noni Thompkins (1) and Natalie Conner (15) and the rest of their teammates celebrate after defeating Westminster to win the Class AA state volleyball championship Saturday afternoon at Marietta High School in Marietta. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
MARIETTA — It’s been four years, but Wesleyan finally found itself on top as it won its sixth state volleyball championship, beating No. 1 Westminster (25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 25-22).
“We’ve come a long way to win the title,” said Wesleyan head coach Ted Russell. “After the ball hit the ground, I was thinking, ‘did this really happen?”
The Wolves found themselves down in three of the four games played, coming back to win two.
Wesleyan (37-10) only trailed once in the first game. After Westminster scored the first point, Wesleyan scored the next five to take a 5-1 lead. The Wolves stretched their lead to 10-4 later on a tip over by Kendra Koetter. And the points just kept coming.
A block by Noni Thompkins and kill by Katie Van Laeke stretched the lead to 14-6. Westminster was able to close the score to 18-15, but the Wolves scored five of the next eight points, including two kills by Van Laeke. A few plays later, the Wolves closed the set as Westminster had an unforced error that ended the set.
The second set saw the Wildcats jump out to an 8-3 lead. But Wesleyan fought back scoring seven of the next nine points, culminating in a kill by Van Laeke.
Westminster stretched its lead to 17-11 and seemingly had control of the set. But Wesleyan scored the next seven points, to take an 18-17 lead. Then, tied at 20-20, closed the set as an ace by Emma Bivings ended the set 25-21.
“These girls have a lot of character,” Russell said. “They just kept battling.”
The third set was different for Wesleyan as Westminster took the lead on the first play and never relinquished the lead. The Wildcats held an 11-5 lead early, and although Wesleyan made a game of it, getting it to 20-19, the Wolves were never able to tie or take the lead in the set.
The fourth set was just like the third as Westminster held the lead throughout. But after the score was tied at 18-18, Wesleyan took over. A kill by Van Laeke came off a mishandled pass by Westminster. Then, two kills by Lauren Frerking put the Wolves within one point of the title.
As the final play happened, Bivings had a block on an attempted kill by Westminster. And as the ball dropped inside the court, the Wolves celebrated.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Van Laeke said. “Words can’t describe how I’m feeling. This was the last game for the seniors and we wanted to leave it all out on the court.”
Russell said the network of support provided at Wesleyan is what has allowed the team to be successful.
“We had some alumni write letters to the girls before the semifinals,” he said. “We had it again before the finals. We also had a few show up to support us today. It’s very encouraging to see that many never truly separate themselves from the program. They will always be a part of us.”
Van Laeke finished the game with 17 kills, while Frerking had 17 kills, nine digs and three block assists. Koetter had 43 assists and 26 digs, while Hannah Hoskin had 22 digs and three aces.. Natalie Connor contributed 16 digs, and Bivings had 11 kills, six digs and two aces.
“All of these years and no state titles, it finally feels like all of the hard work has paid off,” Van Laeke said.