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The Suburbanite
  • H.S. volleyball: Northwest goes five sets to take district title

  • Northwest prevails over Tallmadge in five-game thriller in a Division II district final game at Tallmadge High School.

     

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  • Thursday’s Division II district final high school volleyball match between Northwest and Tallmadge had it all — five sets, fan bases chanting back and forth, a fire alarm pulled and, finally, a trip to the regional tournament for the Indians.
    Top-seeded Northwest prevailed 25-19, 25-21, 20-25, 23-25 and 15-11.
    “I told these girls four years ago that if we stuck together, that they would have a chance to go to state,” Northwest head coach John Rafailedes said. “I told them they would at least make it to regionals.”
    The prediction Rafailedes made came true, but it wasn’t easy.
    It looked as though Northwest was going to run Tallmadge out of its home gym after taking the first two sets. The Blue Devils fought back to take the third 25-20 and then stunned the Indians to take the fourth 25-23. Northwest had led the fourth 21-18 before Tallmadge went on a 7-2 run to force a decisive fifth set.
    “I think we played more calm and relaxed in the first two games,” Rafailedes said.
     “I think the pressure got to us in the next two. We (tightened) up a little bit.”
    Rafailedes was able to get Northwest settled down before the start of the fifth set — which was delayed briefly when a fire alarm was pulled. When play resumed, the Indians jumped out to a 4-0 lead and held on to win 15-11. The pressure of the situation still was being felt after it was over.
    “I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Northwest senior middle hitter Kaitlyn Thompson said. “My stomach is still killing me from all the nerves.”
    Those nerves did not affect the Indians play in the final set, though.
    “We didn’t get down,” Thompson said. “I was proud of us. At the start of the fifth game we were a little worried, but we were like ‘No. We aren’t done yet. We’ve got to finish this. This is our game.’ ”
    Thompson played a big part in the win for Northwest (18-7). Thompson had a team-high 21 kills.
    Freshman setter Abbie Swaino helped make the offense go for the Indians, recording 54 assists. Another freshman, Maria Kolinoff, led Northwest with 13 service points, including seven aces.
    Defensively, senior libero Hannah Gordon and senior middle hitter Celsie Channell were two of the anchors for the Indians. Gordon led them with four digs and Channell had four blocks.
    Rafailedes was impressed with the resiliency of Tallmadge. The Blue Devils, the No. 10 seed, were a massive underdog coming into the tournament.
    “I give them all the credit in the world,” Rafailedes said. “A lot of teams down two games would have folded. They didn’t. We knew they were going to come out hard the third game. I was shocked they beat us in that fourth game. The fifth game was up for grabs. It was exciting volleyball.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Former Ohio State standout and first-year head coach at Tallmadge Ami Stevens agreed that a lot of teams down two sets would have called it a day.
    “They didn’t fold,” Stevens said. “They fought. The girls did that. It says something about what they want (for the program). It says something about their effort. It also says something about their heart. ... They really gave everything they had tonight and they left it all on the court.”
    For Northwest, this is the program’s eighth district title in Rafailedes’ 28 seasons at the school.
    The Indians will take on Crestwood at 7:30 p.m. at Stow High School next Thursday. Crestwood was the No. 1 seed in the Boardman district and swept Salem 26-24, 25-23 and 25-23 in the district finals.
    “We had three losing seasons in a row,” Rafailedes said. “This is the first time these girls are winning. They have really handled it well so far. ...We’ve got great senior leadership. I can’t say enough about them. They are really good kids. They are fun kids to coach. Practice is fun. Everything is fun.”