By Josh Brown
KETTERING — With Anna leading 14-13 in the third game, Miami East sophomore Jonni Parker went back to the service line, and she knew something the Rockets on the other side of the net didn’t.
That the match was already over.
“I just got back there and was like ‘I got this,’” Parker said.
A Parker kill tied the score at 14-14, then Parker ripped off six straight points — including three of her nine aces on the match — with her devastating jump serve, putting the Vikings firmly in control of the set. And since Miami East had already dominated the first two sets, it was just a matter of finishing things off as the Vikings (23-4) swept rival Anna 25-17, 25-14, 25-18 in Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
And after two straight losses in the regional semifinal round — both to Versailles the past two seasons, which lost to Newark Catholic in Tuesday’s early match — beating Anna (18-6) so soundly was definitely cathartic. Particularly since Anna was the No. 1 seed in the Vikings’ sectional bracket, while East was No. 2.
“There were a lot of people (on Internet messageboards) today saying that we were going to lose to Anna. So yeah, we were definitely motivated,” Miami East’s Kyndall Hellyer said. “Versailles is one of our rivals, too, and watching them lose in the match before, we knew we just needed so bad to get to the next level.”
“It’s always been in our minds, getting beat out in this game last year, the last two years,” Parker said. “After we won back-to-back state titles (in 2011 and 2012), we wanted to get back there so bad.”
It was clear very early in Game 1 that the Vikings would be taking the next step on the road back to state.
Parker had three kills early to help East build a 5-2 lead, then she hit back-to-back aces to make it 8-3 and force a quick Anna timeout. The Rockets got back to within four at 14-10, but two kills by Hellyer and two more aces by Parker made it an eight-point game. A series of Anna errors allowed the Vikings to build their lead to 10 at 21-11, and a kill by Parker put the set away.
“The girls were very focused. Once we got past some jitters, we were good,” Miami East coach Brian Bensman said. “The girls were very loose, and when we stay loose, we play well as a team. We spread the ball out well tonight, and when we do that, we’re very hard to defend.”
And Parker and Hellyer were simply impossible to defend, while Anna began to implode in the second game. Five early errors, including three doubles, spotted the Vikings an 8-2 lead, then a Hellyer kill and two aces by Parker during a three-point service run made it 12-3. The lead grew to as much as 11 at 21-10 before the Rockets won four out of five points to close to within 22-14.
But Parker put down a vicious kill, then Parker set one high to Hellyer, who was able to leap up, reach and tap it over for a kill — and a back-corner push kill by Parker closed out the set and put the Vikings one game away from a trip to Saturday’s regional final.
“Her vertical is unbelievable,” Benson said of Hellyer. “For a sophomore and how far she’s some, it’s unreal. Jonni can put it anywhere and she can go up and get it. And Jonni’s hitting percentage tonight was unbelievable, too. She had 14 kills — on 17 attempts. When we’re out of system, she’s so good at hitting those pushes to the corners and catching teams off guard.”
Anna fought back early in Game 3, building its biggest lead of the match at 7-3. The Rockets still led at 11-8, when Reagan Morrett put down a kill, Jillian Wesco hit back-to-back aces and Morrett added another kill to give the Vikings the lead. Anna regained the advantage and led 14-13 when Parker tapped over a kill and took the serve. She hit three aces in a row during the six-point run, making the score 20-14.
“At this point in the year, my jump serve’s just gotten so much better,” Parker said. “It’s a lot better than it was last year, too, but it’s taken a lot of work.”
And on match point, Wesco put down a kill to seal it.
Parker finished with eight assists and nine digs to go with her 14 kills and nine aces, while Hellyer added seven kills and 11 digs. Morrett had five kills and two digs, Wesco had two aces, a kill and a block, Taylor McCuiston had three kills, Emma Monnin had two kils, Kati Runner had a kill, Carly Gump had an ace and double-digit assists and Lindsey Black had nine digs.
The Vikings will face Newark Catholic, which won a back-and-forth battle in four sets against Versailles, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trent Arena for the right to go to the state tournament.
“We just came out and played so much better,” Hellyer said. “Today, we played well as a team.”
“We’ve just come together so much more as a team throughout the season,” Parker said. “We’ve been building on that all season, and all week long, we were focused and knew we had to beat Anna. We definitely knew we were going to come out strong and ready to go.”
Almost like they knew the match was over before it began.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.