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Elder finally beats Moeller to capture fourth state title
July 23, 2010
By Jim Jicha
In the end it came down to Elder and Archbishop Moeller for the state title.
With Elder was making its fourth straight appearance, and Moeller its seventh in the past eight years, these two Greater Catholic League powers have become state tourney regulars.
They’ve also produced two memorable title matches against each other. Elder narrowly missed ruining Moeller’s perfect 29-0 season in 2007, falling in that year’s finale 25-22, 19-25, 29-27, 24-26, 12-15. The Panthers fell just short again in last year’s title match 25-19, 23-25, 25-21, 24-26, 13-15.
With an experienced cast that included three starters at 6’7” or taller back from last year’s near miss, Elder seemed the clear favorite at the start of this season. However, St. Xavier disabused ideas of Elder dominance with a 25-23, 25-18 victory over the Panthers in the final of the St. Charles Classic.
And even though the Panthers turned the tables on the Bombers a couple of days later, they were unable to solve a much shorter Moeller lineup, and fell twice to the Crusaders, 25-20, 25-20, 25-27, 15-25, 10-15, and 20-25, 25-22, 24-26, 21-25.
Moeller won the GCL, losing only once to LaSalle, but the Crusaders struggled outside the league. They ended 1-2 in both the Mount Vernon Quad and Centerville Elite, losing to St. Edward and Division II champ Archbishop Hoban in the former, and St. Edward and Mount Vernon in the latter.
Making a state final between Elder and Moeller seem more improbable was the ascension of Lakewood St. Edward and Lakota West, which finished the season ranked one and two, respectively, in the final Boys Volleyball State Poll.
St. Edward had a banner day at the Elite where they knocked off Moeller (for the second time), Elder and St. Xavier – that’s three-fourths of the GCL - for their first Elite title. While the title match between Sts. Edward and Xavier was in progress, Lakota West was taking down Elder for third, and Mt. Vernon was beating Moeller for fifth.
But we digress. Elder and Moeller finally got their acts together in the state tournament, and on May 30 at Centerville High School, the Panthers turned the tables on the Crusaders 23-25, 31-29, 25-20, 25-19 to claim their fourth overall state title.
“Coming out of Cincinnati is no picnic, and as hard as it is to take some losses during the season, it prepares you for post season”, Elder Coach Sean Tierney said afterward. “We were ready to go against St. Ed. Beating them gave us confidence, and that continued on this morning against Hilliard Darby”.
“As for Moeller”, Tierney added, “we tell the kids not to worry about the name on the jersey on the other side of the net. We focused on playing smart ball, one point at a time. That is what led us to victory. (Our coaching staff) played on the fact that Moeller won the GCL, they had everything to lose, we had nothing to lose. We told them to focus on playing. Because Moeller had beaten us, they were the favorite coming in”.
Elder’s match point, ironically, came the way Moeller’s did in 2009, on a block.
From the stands it was impossible to tell who actually scored the block, but according to co-blocker John Lucas it was 6’3” junior middle Andrew Barnette. “He did get it”, said Lucas, a 6’7” senior Honorable Mention All-Ohio opposite headed to Lees McRae College next year.
Lucas added “The final point, all I was thinking was last year when they beat us in the exact same way, they beat us with a block. So I figured we’d beat them the same way”. He continued “It’s all redemption, the team played amazing and I’m so happy we won”.
The Panthers also took state in 1999, 2000, and most recently over St. Xavier in 2008.
Tieney said his team’s turnaround wasn’t as dramatic as it seems. “In our two previous meetings, we played Moeller very tight”, he explained. “In fact, in our first meeting, we beat Moeller the first two sets of the match before dropping the third by two points, and then failing to close the last two. We lost the second match in four with each set decided by five points or less”.
Tierney said the coaching staff knew they matched up with Moeller physically. “We just had to have the confidence and mental strength to know that we could beat them”. Playing St. Edward in the quarterfinal afforded them the chance to gain that confidence, according to Tierney, who added “We did our due diligence preparing for that match. When we were successful (against the top-ranked team in the state), it provided the boost of self-confidence we needed in the final two matches of the tournament”.
Game one went to the wire and was typical GCL, with nine ties, four lead changes, and pitched do-or-die volleys. Senior outside John Abeln led off the scoring for Moeller, and junior outside Matt Moehring demolished a Chad Thornton set down the left to tie.
The Crusaders spurted ahead on kills from Honorable Mention All-State junior Tucker Skove, a 5’10” outside who can touch 10’7”, and junior Ben Vickers, the tallest player on the team at 6’4”.
First Team All-State 6’8” middle Matt Harpenau, a Lees McRae College recruit, blasted two kills from the middle to opposite corners and double blocked with Moehring in between, and when setter Steven Kent scored with a diving dig at the net Elder was up 5-3.
Crusader 6’0” junior outside/middle Mike Zoller broke the run with a kill, and after another score by Moehring, Moeller 5’11” junior outside Kyle Neuville retied matters at six.
Elder kept pace and moved back on top 9-7 as 6’7” outside hitter and Mount St. Joseph recruit C.J. Zureick blasted two points.
Abeln sparked a three-point Moeller spurt with a kill on the left, and First Team All-State and South Region Player of the Year senior setter/right side Landen Hunter ended an intense volley with a shot to left corner that put Moeller back in front 10-9.
The Panthers answered with three when Barnette scored with a quick hit in the middle and Moehring blocked on the left. They edged further in front 14-11 on a stuff block by Lucas.
Skove blocked and killed Moeller back to a tie, but Harpenau slammed two terminations and Moehring served an ace to put Elder back on top by three at 18-15.
Following a long hit by Elder and an ace from Crusader defensive specialist A.J. Eckhoff, the teams traded points with a spike off the block by Moehring leaving the Panthers with a 22-20 lead.
Moeller edged back on top, however, when Skove crunched an overpass on a battle at the net, Elder obliged with a hit into the pole and Zoller blocked Moehring on the right.
Moehring retied at 23, but Zoller took it to game point with a hesitation line drive down the left. And when Elder was called for a net infraction, Moeller was up 1-0.
Moehring got Elder going in game two with a kill. Abeln tied it, but Harpenau responded with a stuff block and, after an ace from Kent, he blasted three kills en route to a 7-1 lead. After a Crusader point, block kills by Harpenau and senior opposite Tyler Hoffman led a Panther romp to 14-4.
Moeller, however, then won an intense volley which Eckhoff and Elder libero prolonged with digs, and Crusader junior setter/right side Marshal Luning served up five more points to cut the lead to four - Neuville contributed a kill, while Eckhoff and Luning dove to keep volleys alive.
Elder kept pace from there and led 21-15 after a blast to deep back middle by Zureick and a block from Barnette. But after the Panthers mishandled a spike from Neuville, Moeller crept within 21-18 as Hunter lined a spike off a touch in the middle, and Abeln and Zoller teamed to block Zureick (this after Skove dug a previous missile from Zureick).
Elder senior opposite Tyler Hoffman ended the run with a big kill (huge in retrospect), and after an exchange of errors and a pop into a hole from Barnette, Elder was on the verge 24-19.
Two long Panther hits, however, gave new life to the Crusaders who, after kills by Skove and Abeln, outlasted Elder on a long desperate volley to tie the score.
Lucas kept Elder in control with an overpass demolition, and the Panthers never lost their poise or the lead through five more ties. That fifth tie came when Neuville answered a kill by Zureick. But Moeller’s next spike went into the net, and Moehring drilled a game-ending blast from right middle that was dug into the upper deck.
Elder had come close to being down 0-2, after having blown leads of 14-4 and 24-19. That is the soccer equivalent of giving up the go-ahead goal with two minutes left in extra time. But instead, while the Panthers had been tested and frustrated by Moeller, they had held, and they were even.
Looking back, it seems as if Elder really gained confidence from the unfolding of this drama. The Panthers would take early charge in game three, hold the lead and then race away at the end. In game four they would lose an early lead, but only briefly, after which they would hold sway.
Abeln blocked Lucas to start Moeller off in game three. Lucas, however, answered with a spike through the block and then recovered a Moeller block to fuel a five-point run. Harpenau contributed a block and kill, and libero Ryan Welch kept Moeller parries from scoring.
Skove got the Crusaders back on the board with a cross-court shot that was blocked back across court and out, and defensive specialist Connor White landed a dig into a hole. That made it 5-3, and after back-and-forth scoring through intense volleys, Elder was still up 14-12.
Harpenau then started a second five-point run with a tip. This was followed by a double block from Zureick and Barnette and three Moeller errors, two helped by Zureick whose slams kept them out of system.
The Crusaders rallied with a 5-1 run on kills by Neuville, Hunter and Skove, but Zureick sandwiched in another demolition that kept Elder comfortably in front 20-17.
Lucas restarted the Panthers with a kill, and then teamed with Barnette on a block. A net serve followed, but razzle-dazzle defense by Thornton and defensive specialist Nick Boeing preceded another block by Barnette that made it 23-18.
Moeller wasn’t through and cut the lead to 23-20 on a tip by Vickers, before Harpenau blasted home another spike.
Game point came on a long Crusader hit that was made possible by stellar back court play on the part of the Panthers. Welch dove to keep a bomb off the floor, Boeing raced back to keep the dig in play and Moehring directed the wayward ball over the net, ironically proving Moeller Coach Greg Ulland’s adage that “defense wins championships”.
Game four was a dogfight to begin, with Moeller scoring first, Elder going up 3-1, the teams trading the lead, Moeller at 5-4 and Elder 9-8, and Hunter tying it for the fifth time with another smash.
Then the Panthers broke to the fore on a 6-1 run, to which Lucas contributed a termination and a block, Harpenau a block and Welch an ace. Zoller got Moeller back on track with a kill, and an ace by Eckhoff cut the lead to 15-13.
But Harpenau cremated a short set from Thornton, and he scored again after a Crusader hitting error. Two long and intense volleys followed as the teams traded points, and after a double block from Harpenau and Hoffman the Panthers were up 20-14.
Hunter sparked another three-point Crusader spurt, but Hoffman terminated that with a smash that was dug cross-court and into the stands. The teams traded errors to 22-19.
With Moeller serving, Zureick blasted a spike that was blocked into limbo. Elder fans were beginning to stir, and Moehring brought them to their feet with a huge block on the left.
And a split second after Barnette’s block slammed down into Moeller’s left corner, he and his teammates were buried in a sea of purple.
Afterward it was Coach Tierney’s turn to talk about defense, and the frustration it causes opponents. “Our defense was impeccable” he said. “Our front court blocking was solid all tournament long and the final was just another example. I thought Moeller's attackers were getting more and more frustrated as the match wore on because our front court was getting consistent touches on their swings”.
Tierney continued “There is no doubt our back court stepped up in this tournament. We fixed some things, we tweaked some things. On top of that John Lucas and Tyler Hoffman came up with key blocks on the outside…that transitioned here from the St. Ed match. We were able to close gaps, recognize tendencies”.
After citing Welch, Moehring, and Boeing for significant contributions, Tierney said “Moeller has fantastic (emphasis Tierney’s) defense, which has been carrying them all season long, but ours stepped up…not to mention Harpenau”.
Matt Harpenau described winning the state as “one of the best feelings I’ve had my entire life”. He added, “I played my best, I was trying my hardest. They were playing well, but I just kept going at them”.
Go at them he did with a team-leading 18 kills on .454 efficiency, and nine blocks.
Andrew Barnette’s tenth and final block not only ended the match but broke a three-way tie for that statistic with Harpenau and Lucas. He didn’t have much to say afterward, but what he said was poignant.
“We won what matters”.
1) Elder Coach Sean Tierney reflected on Elder’s overcoming adversity to capture a state championship they seemed destined to win before the season began. His thoughts were in response to a question on how libero Ryan Welch and outside Matt Moehring , both juniors, had come into their own at the state tournament.
“I thought both played to their potential for the tournament. As juniors, both players had moments throughout the season where they seemed to have trouble adjusting to the pressure of playing in the GCL, or in high profile matches. At times, both allowed nerves, or self-confidence to get the best of them.
Both players worked extremely hard throughout the season to learn from those experiences and improve their game. And I think that showed tremendously in the tournament. Moehring's serve, attack, block, and defense were all solid. He delivered some key blocks and kills down the stretch. However, I was most pleased to see his consistent passing and improved backcourt defense in the finals.
Similarly, Welch was the model of consistency down the stretch for us. He is such an athletic player. As a result, he was able to get touches on balls that would have been out of reach for most players. In addition, he sees the court very well and was able to put himself in perfect position.
I think all the players deserve significant mention. How can you not point out the blocking of Lucas, Barnette, and Harpenau? Or how about two pressure kills from Tyler Hoffman following time-outs? Anthony Monk coming off the bench to help get us out of a difficult rotation a couple of times in the match was huge for us. And of course, Matt Harpenau was unstoppable at times throughout the final three matches of the season”.
2) Tierney also gave his perspectives on the season and the state championship win. “Of course it is always nice to end your season with a win. But what makes this season and championship so rewarding for me was the fact that this team endured its struggles, disappointments, and setbacks and yet still continued to work to improve each day. It is so satisfying to see your team playing its best ball at the end of a long, hard year”.
Tierney concluded “I am extremely proud of these players and the hard work that they demonstrated all season long”.
3) John Lucas talked about ‘team’ when asked to compare winning the 2008 and 2010 championships. “In 2008 I was just a sophomore and I wasn’t doing too much on the team, but as a senior I’m kind of a key player. It was a lot of fun actually playing my part and doing what I could. But I couldn’t do anything without my team – my team played amazing. It’s a team sport and I’m so happy it is”.
As for not winning GCL, Lucas said “It was a lot of revenge (on our mind). I was happy we came out and won one finally. They beat us in the GCL, and we said, ‘you know what, let’s show them up, let’s beat them up-state…the GCL is not as important, let’s win state’”.
4) Coach Tierney was asked about Cincinnati volleyball dominance. He responded “That has more to do with the culture in Cincinnati, not just volleyball”. Tierney noted that Elder also played Moeller in the baseball state semifinal, and that GCL schools have done very well in basketball and other sports.
5) Elder Stats: Harpenau - 18 kills, .454 kill eff., 9 blocks, 6 digs; Moehring - 1 ace, 13 kills, 6 blocks, 15 digs; Barnette - 2 kills, 10 blocks, 1 dig; Lucas - 5 kills, 9 blocks, 7 digs; Zureick - 9 kills, 2 blocks, 4 digs; Welch - 23 digs; Kent - 1 ace, 20 assists, 1 kill, 12 digs; Thornton - 22 assists, 8 digs; Boeing - 7 digs; Hoffman - 1 assist, 2 kills, 5 blocks, 2 digs