FAIRBORN — The Miami East volleyball team isn’t the only thing in Casstown with a tradition to uphold.
After all, the school’s student section and its fans were an integral part of the Vikings’ back-to-back Division III state championships in 2011 and 2012.
“We’ve been shown by the people before us that you need a community to win,” Miami East senior Maggie Bergman said. “We’ve seen the student section change the outcome of a game just by us yelling”
This season, Bergman and fellow senior Emily Hawkins took up the mantle of leading the Vikings’ student section — dubbed the “Blue Crew” and can be found on Twitter at the handle @bluecrewmehs — during the volleyball team’s run to the D-III state tournament Friday and Saturday at Wright State’s Nutter Center. And while over the past six years the team has made the Nutter Center a home away from home — with four state tournament appearances and three titles — it’s been the fans who literally made it feel like home.
“We like to pack it full, so the girls feel like they’re at home when they’re at state games,” Bergman said. “I don’t think they get the respect they deserve for making it this far because it is a tradition at our school because we love volleyball. But we like to show them that we’re really proud of them and it’s incredible that they made it this far.”
“Especially during volleyball and basketball games, the student section can make a difference,” Hawkins said. “The volleyball team especially tells us that they feed off of our energy and our cheering, so it’s really important that we help them out.”
That help proved to be big over the weekend. The Vikings, who lost to Gilmour Academy in the state semifinal round last season, defeated the Lancers in four on Friday to advance to Saturday’s state title game. There, they started strong with a pair of wins and, after Tuscarawas Valley evened up the match at 2-2, routed the Trojans in the fifth and final game 15-6 to claim the program’s third championship.
“Some people think small school, not going to have a very big student section,” said Kyndall Hellyer, a junior on the volleyball team. “We rally up everybody. Through social media, at school, just word of mouth, we get everyone to come out. Our community is so small, but we all support each other.”
“The student section is a big reason … they fire our energy a lot of the time,” said fellow junior Jonni Parker, who had a match-high 26 kills in Saturday’s state final win over the Trojans. “When they’re excited, that makes us even more excited and makes us play harder. Because it makes us want to win for each other, want to win for our community and for all the people that came out to watch us and that look up to us.”
“We made sure to tell them at school Friday that we don’t just feed off of each other’s energy on the court. We feed off of their energy so much, too,” Hellyer said.
The student section made all the difference over the weekend.
Against Gilmour Academy on Friday, the Lancers — who went on to win their first state championship last season after defeating the Vikings in the state semifinal — did not bring a student section with them. Miami East, meanwhile, brought its typical full-capacity Blue Crew, all sporting a red, white and blue theme, as the match was played on Veterans Day. The rowdy group — whose favorite chant of the entire weekend was “chicken sandwich,” according to Hawkins — cheered the Vikings on to a convincing four-set win and on to the finals.
Tuscarawas Valley’s student section was more of a match, at least in volume, though the Vikings’ student section was still able to hit them with a “you’re outnumbered” chant. During the decisive fifth game, Miami East used a nine-point run to seal the victory, taking the score from a 4-4 tie to an insurmountable 13-4 lead — with the Blue Crew getting louder and louder with each point.
It was particularly special for Hawkins — her younger sister Gabrielle Hawkins, a freshman on the team, served eight consecutive points during that run, including an ace.
“It was amazing being able to see her play these past few games, especially the state games,” Emily Hawkins said. “I’ve always known she was an amazing athlete, so watching her do what she loves at the highest level is awesome. Being able to cheer my sister and my friends was so much fun and so great to be part of. I’m so proud of them.”
It was a common theme around the entire community.
“The people that we care about the most are there cheering for us,” said Taylor McCuistion, one of the team’s five seniors. “That’s what helps us win.”
And just as the Viking players looked up to the 2011 and 2012 championship teams, so too did Bergman and Hawkins to the Blue Crews of years past.
“We were in junior high when they first made it (to state), and we watched how awesome the student section was,” Hawkins said. “I think we all just wanted to be like that and be part of it. It’s really fun to be part of it and get loud and crazy.
“It’s really fun. I was in the front last year, but I didn’t get to lead anything. I got to do that this year, though, and it’s fun.”
“We were the little kids in the stands watching the student sections then,” Bergman said. “They set the standard for us that, when the team makes it to state, we need to make sure the whole community comes out to support them.”
After all, they had a Miami East tradition to uphold.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.