Cardinals Claim Fourth Straight District Title

The New Bremen Cardinals volleyball team poses for a picture after winning a Division IV district championship against Marion Local on Thursday at Bluffton University's Sommer Center.
Sports Editor

For a program who is vying for its fourth straight regional tournament and a senior class that has nearly 100 wins under their belts, one may be surprised to hear the word humble when describing this group.

But that’s how New Bremen coach Diana Kramer described her team despite all of the glory, accolades and credit they have received; this team is still humble. 

“It is a really humbling experience,” the coach said. “When you look at our district tournament and then our regional tournament — the number of state-ranked teams in those tournaments can make anybody go crazy. It just speak volumes about the volleyball that is in our area.”

That humble feeling has the Cardinals happy at the moment after defeating its second Midwest Athletic Conference foe this postseason with a 25-20, 25-14, 19-25, 25-22 victory against Marion Local in a Division IV district championship on Thursday.

The Cardinals (24-1) — now winners of 16 straight games — will face St. Henry in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m. on Halloween in Elida. The Redskins defeated Fort Recovery Thursday to win the Kalida District 25-21, 21-25, 20-25, 25-16, 15-11 and St. Henry was the last team to beat New Bremen in a Sept. 12 MAC match that went five sets.

But this senior group — led by all-state players Macy Puthoff and Taylor Paul alongside Ashton Heitkamp — collected win No. 99 during their four years in the program, garnered its fourth district title and will compete in their fourth regional tournament with an eye for a third straight state appearance. The seniors enter Elida next week with a 99-11 record all-time.

“Our senior class has won four district championships and it is maybe one of the most winningest senior classes to ever play volleyball in the MAC and that is saying a lot,” Kramer said. 

The Cardinals were unstoppable when they executed from the service line, which they were able to do throughout the first and second sets at Bluffton University’s Sommer Center.

Trailing 13-16 in the opening set, Paul got the serve on Marion Local’s Olivia Winner’s serve that went out of bounds. Paul’s serving swung four points New Bremen’s way as the Cardinals all of sudden led 18-16 on an ace by Paul and a combination block by Heitkamp and Puthoff. Marion Local (13-13) pulled within one point twice, but Puthoff served up 20-18, scoring the next three points on back-to-back kills by Josie Reinhart and a block by Heitkamp for a 23-18 lead. After another Heitkamp block, Reinhart put the set away with a kill and a 1-0 set lead.

Riding that late first-set momentum, Diana Heitkamp opened the second set with three aces as part of a quick 6-1 lead for New Bremen and Claire Pape extended that lead with two more aces for an 11-3 advantage. With Heitkamp serving again up 17-9, the Cardinals extended the lead to 21-9 and closed out the set on a tip by Puthoff at the net for a 2-0 set lead. 

Serving aided the Cardinals again in the fourth set, this time from Elli Roetgerman, who Kramer said is making her way back from an injury she suffered during the regular season. 

The junior served two points to give the Cardinals some breathing room to begin an 8-2 run to lead 16-9. The Flyers closed the gap, 19-18 as part of a 9-3 run before Reinhart’s kill gave the ball back to Roetgerman, who served the Cardinals to a 23-18 lead and eventually win the match for the fourth-set victory.

“We talk about knowing your role and accepting your role every day and Elli Roetgerman is a perfect example of that,” Kramer said. “She got a severely sprained ankle in the Versailles match and just starting coming back, but she is not ready to play yet. Yet she went to the service in that third set and got us some breathing room.

“It speaks volumes about the level of play that we can play at and the ability of every girl on the bench being ready to come in and make a play.”

Now this humbled team will venture to Elida for a rematch against St. Henry next Thursday.

“They are going to bring it, the gym is going to be packed and deservingly so, somebody else gets to move on,” Kramer said. “Really, more MAC teams should have that right, but unfortunately that is the system that is set up and we are not going to change it.

“… It’s high school sports, you have to be ready for big moments and you can’t take anything for granted. That is why it is such a humbling game for these seniors, for this team and for me as a coach because to win four district tournaments in the league that we play in is just remarkable.”

For the full story, see Friday's print edition if The Evening Leader.