Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
BAINBRIDGE — Last fall, Paint Valley’s biggest win all season long came in a Division IV district semifinal against top-seeded Waterford.
That night, on Oct. 25, 2018 to be exact, the Bearcats pushed Waterford to five sets and eventually sealed the deal on a 17-25, 16-25, 25-22, 25-11, 15-10 victory.
Monday night, with a three-set win over Whiteoak in a Division IV sectional semifinal, this year’s version of the Bearcats have given themselves a chance to knock off another No. 1 seed.
The 25-14, 25-13, 25-16 win over the Wildcats pits the Bearcats (8-14) against top-seeded Notre Dame in Thursday’s sectional championship. The Titans were the team that ended Paint Valley’s magical tournament run last fall.
“I’m glad we didn’t get frustrated when errors happened tonight,” Paint Valley coach Angela Jackson said. “But we know we have to come in ready and determined [on Thursday]. We have to do a better job than we did today.”
Monday’s win was never in doubt. In fact, Whiteoak (2-18) didn’t hold a lead at any point.
In the first set, Abbi Stanforth spearheaded a 7-0 run at the service line before Paint Valley retained leads of 12-5 and 18-11 en route to a 25-14 win.
Sophomore OIivia Smith was the main factor in the second set, pelting the Wildcats’ defense with kill after kill, while Mandi Bolles helped out with multiple late aces, leading to a 25-13 win.
The third saw the Bearcats jump out to a 7-3 lead. They never looked back in a 25-16 victory.
“When the girls want it, they want it,” Jackson said. “It depends on which team shows up. But we have a lot of girls right now that want to change the culture in the program. For them, the SVC win [the team’s first since 2013] was big this year. Last year’s tournament run … they recognize they have the ability and their confidence has grown going into [the postseason].”
Thursday’s test is obviously much different than the one the Bearcats passed Monday. Notre Dame will come into the matchup at 19-3 overall with losses to Westfall (3-2), Alexander (2-0) and Wheelersburg (3-0).
The Titans have multiple hitters including Taylor Schmidt and Sophia Hassel, two bonafide middles in Claire Dettwiller and Chloe Delabar, an experienced setter in Cassie Schaefer and a strong defense led by Ava Hassel and Joyce Zheng.
While Jackson certainly remembers those names from last year’s matchup, she also hasn’t studied them extensively this year … yet.
“In terms of stats, I’ve looked at Notre Dame but we focus on one game at a time,” Jackson said. “So most of my homework comes in the next few days. I’m one of those types. I know what happened when [Notre Dame] played Westfall and Southeastern. But you just never know. Every team shows up differently. In the tournament, that’s especially true.”
To beat the Titans, Paint Valley must “show up” Thursday night in Portsmouth. Game time is set for 6 p.m. with a trip to a district semifinal on the line.
“I tell the girls that we never stop playing until [the score] hits 25 and we don’t stop playing until we’re done with five [sets],” Jackson said. “So for them, they know that you don’t quit until you quit. That’s something we talked about after the game. We’re going to come in mentally prepared this week, work on the things we need to work on and come in with the best mentality we can on Thursday.”