Cardinals Head Back To State

From left, New Bremen’s Claire Pape (12), Macy Puthoff (8), Ashton Heitkamp (4), Taylor Paul (6) and Ashton Heitkamp (5) celebrate with Cardinals fans as they hold the Division IV regional champion trophy after defeating Tiffin Calvert in four sets on Saturday at the Elida Fieldhouse.
Sports Editor

Saturday’s rematch was nothing like the first time these two teams met.

Facing each other for the first time since last season’s Division IV state final, New Bremen overcame a Tiffin Calvert victory in the first set to upend the defending state champs with a 19-25, 25-21, 25-13, 25-16 regional championship victory at the Elida Fieldhouse.

The Cardinals’ front net were too overpowering for a Calvert team who had not lost a set in any match since Sept. 3 and New Bremen’s serving allowed the three-time state qualifiers to start with marginal leads in sets 2 and 3. 

“We were definitely not over thinking this game for sure,” Cardinals coach Diana Kramer said. “We knew that they were better than they were last year and I preached every single day, ‘you need to be humble, you need to stay hungry and you need to be humble throughout this entire process because if you are not, somebody is going to catch you.’

“Our path to get to our ultimate goal is so difficult that you can’t take a break, you can’t take one second off. You have to stay focused in the moment. Nothing in the past matters, nothing in the future matters. We were focused in the moment and I cannot be more proud [of them] right now.”

The Cardinals (26-1) will now face another rematch on Friday against Monroeville in a state semifinal. The two teams faced off in last season’s semifinal at Wright State University’s Nutter Center that saw the Cardinals furiously storm back after trailing the first two sets. Calvert’s season ends at 25-2.

In a game between two teams with a combined 50-2 record, Calvert took a 1-0 set lead as the Senecas were able to run their offense to bully the Cardinals, but Kramer and her staff made adjustments after that and stymied the Calvert offense. 

New Bremen opened the second set with a 5-0 lead, with four of those points coming with Diana Heitkamp serving. A kill by Taylor Paul and a block and tip at the net by Claire Pape aided that early lead. That lead was enough cushion for the Cardinals, who led by as much as six points on a Macy Puthoff kill, but the set teetered between two to three points before a four-hit error by the Senecas tied the match at 1-1. 

Heitkamp opened the third set with six service points including an ace, a Puthoff and Pape combo block as well as a kill and block from Puthoff and a tip by Pape for a 6-0 lead and a Calvert timeout. That early lead served the Cardinals well again as the Senecas never pulled within seven points throughout the set. New Bremen led by as much as 20-8 after a Kaylee Fruend and Puthoff combo block — with the former’s block ending set 3 with a 2-1 Cardinals’ lead. 

Blocking also played a major role in the Cardinals’ success in the middle sets. 

New Bremen recorded 19 blocks with nine of those coming in the middle sets. That first line of defense did not allow Calvert to get its offense going — an offense that recorded six points off kills in the first set. 

Heitkamp’s serving extended the lead to 3-0 in the fourth start, but the difference in set 4 was the 9-0 run the Cardinals enjoyed with Pape serving to push their lead to 19-10. The Purdue University-Fort Wayne commit recorded an ace and extended the Cardinals’ lead thanks to kills from Puthoff and Josie Reinhart and a block from Puthoff.

Puthoff finished Saturday’s match with 11 kills, six blocks and three service aces, while Fruend produced seven kills and nine blocks and Pape finished with 37 assists, seven blocks and 11 digs. Reinhart had 11 kills and Paul tallied nine kills. Heitkamp had 19 digs and four aces. 

The Cardinals will not be making their third straight state appearance at 4 p.m. Friday with a chance to capture its second state championship in three years — making them the 38th school in Ohio volleyball history to qualify for state three years in a row and the fourth Midwest Athletic Conference school to do so alongside Versailles, who also qualified on Saturday.

“It is so, so difficult,” an emotional Kramer said. “It is so difficult and it is so humbling. It is so exhausting physically, it is exhausting mentally, it is tolling on my family, it is tolling on my kids. They are 17 and 18 years old, they’ve got to take calculus tests, they gotta stay focused, they have another job other than ‘playing volleyball. It is so difficult and it’s exhausting, but in the end, it’s really, really fun and it is all about the memories that you make. 

“If you can continue to make those memories and you care about and love the people that you play with — all of those taxing things that happen to you throughout the season and during the offseason — you can come together as a team. We tell each other every single day we love each other so when you love somebody, you are willing to do whatever it takes to try to accomplish your ultimate goal.”