By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Emma Monnin, like most of her current Viking teammates, watched.
It was 2012, and the Miami East volleyball team was in the process of winning its second straight Division III state championship on the floor of Wright State’s Nutter Center.
“It was my freshman year and I was on JV, so I wasn’t, like, a big part of the team,” Monnin, a senior now, said. “But I watched them. I thought Sam (Cash) and Abby (Cash) and Leah (Dunivan) and all of them were just amazing. I looked up to them so much. I never really thought it’d be us going to state.”
“They definitely left big shoes to fill,” said fellow senior Kati Runner. “I’m very excited. I remember being in the stands and watching those girls, and it was just amazing. I’m glad that we have that chance now.”
Simply put, now it’s their turn.
After Saturday’s four-set victory over Newark Catholic in the regional final, the 2015 Miami East Vikings are headed back to the state tournament. They will face Gilmour Academy in the state semifinal round at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Nutter Center — the team the Vikings defeated in 2011 to win the first of its back-to-back titles.
But for the past two seasons, the Vikings have been eliminated in the regional semifinal round — both times by Versailles, which was eliminated in the regional semifinal by Newark Catholic the same night East swept Anna — and senior Lindsey Black and the other Vikings who had played on those teams began to question if they’d get their opportunity.
“It’s still unbelievable,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure on us. We’ve been trying to get here ever since. It’s been so difficult every year. I can’t even. It’s not like I didn’t think we’d ever be here — in fact, we’ve been the underdogs the past two games. Other people doubted us, didn’t think we’d win, but we were all confident. And now it’s just … now it’s here. It’s exciting.”
One current Viking watched that second state championship from the bench as a member of the varsity team — and she showed off her hardware, too.
“I was on the state team my freshman year. I have my state ring,” senior Karson Mahaney said. “And I want another one. We all want it.”
For Mahaney, the stretch run has been particularly difficult, as she’s been on the sidelines with an injury.
“It’s awful not playing,” she said. “It’s very disappointing. But I just love this team so much. A lot of people ask me why I’m still part of the team even though I knew I couldn’t play. Well, they’re my family. There’s no other … you just come. They’re family.”
For some, that family comparison is literal.
“I never thought I’d be here,” said Reagan Morrett, whose sister Allison Morrett was the libero on both state title teams. “I’ve always dreamt to be like her, and I’m finally here. It’s awesome, and she’s excited for us.”
“It’s a lot different being part of it,” said Kaitlyn Mack, younger sister of two-time state champion Angie Mack. “It’s really exciting. It was really cool after that last point Saturday when we all ran onto the floor after we won. It’s cool to be part of such a close group.”
And for the underclassmen, who were in seventh or eighth grade during that last state title, those feelings of admiration are amplified, too.
“The first time they won, I recorded it on my iPod,” junior Jillian Wesco said. “I remember watching that all the time. Everyone was so loud when they won, it was just crazy. I’ve always looked up to those girls, wanted to be like them and go to state. And now we’re here. It’s just crazy.”
“The last two years, it felt like we were cursed, losing in the same round,” junior Carly Gump said. “This year, we broke the curse. We knew we had a lot of potential, and our goal has always been to get to state. We look at hose past teams and say we want to get back there. After we won the regional semifinal, that was our motivation to keep going.”
“It was a really big deal for us,” junior Sidney Pelfrey said. “We watched them throughout state when we were in junior high, and it got put on us hard when we came into high school. It’s been our goal this season and previous seasons to be here. We’ve pushed ourselves and worked really hard to be here, and it’s a big accomplishment for us.”
In fact, the players are already receiving some of that admiration that they gave to previous teams.
“It’s been honestly thrilling. At school, everyone is so hyped,” junior Taylor McCuistion said. “After losing last year, this year we came back and won the game we lost, and everyone is really excited to play. It’s really awesome, because I always looked up to the girls that won state. Finally making it to state has been a really big goal of mine, and to make it here, it’s really thrilling.”
For the team’s two statistical leaders, sophomores Jonni Parker and Kyndall Hellyer, it’s even stranger.
“It’s a really weird feeling actually,” Hellyer said. “Sixth and seventh grade for us when they won state wasn’t long ago. Going into freshman year, we were just like yeah, we’re just going to get through the season. But the dream really hit us this year. We knew we had all the assets to get there.”
“It’s a different aspect, but it really is weird,” said Parker, who moved to Miami East before her freshman year. “The Bishop Hartley game was the first time we’ve beaten them since we’ve been playing them. That was kind of when we knew. It’s our time now.”
And that’s a sentiment, no matter how close the current Miami East players are to the members of the previous state championship teams or how much they look up to them, was unanimous among this year’s Vikings.
“They’ve done it before. We’ve done it before,” Mahaney said. “Now it’s our turn.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.