It was nearly one of the greatest comeback stories of all time...nearly.
After falling behind two sets to none, Humphrey St. Francis forced a fifth, had an early lead in the final frame and saved five match points but saw the fairy tale fall short in Saturday's Class D-2 state championship match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
St. Francis led Bruning-Davenport-Shickely 8-4 in the fifth then fell behind 14-9 just moments later. The Flyers turned away every potential match-ending rally over the next five points but walked off the court solemnly when a whistled violation and a kill sent the Eagle players into a celebratory dog pile.
The final result showed BDS winning a dramatic opening match to championship Saturday 26-24, 25-16, 19-25, 18-25, 16-14.
The win gave the Eagles back-to-back state titles after also winning last year in five sets. BDS won all three matches over the weekend in five sets, trailing in the quarterfinals 2-0 to Bertrand then facing a 2-1 deficit in the semifinals to Wynot.
St. Francis went five on Friday also, mounting a comeback in the fifth when the Flyers fell behind Lawrence-Nelson 6-0.
"I thought, 'We've got it,' but I knew they had played five games in the first round and the second round. I told our girls, 'That's what we've got to do. They've done it. Why not us,'" coach Dean Korus said.
"It was a mirror image of yesterday, except we came up on the short end of the stick."
An Allison Weidner block and two BDS hitting errors had St. Francis jumping for joy early in the fifth with a 3-0 lead. Following two Eagle points, Weidner sent a shot to the floor and BDS put one in the net, forcing a timeout from the reigning champs.
Down 8-4 later on, the Eagles' Jordan Bolte began dictating the action at the serving line. Though she didn't generate any aces, St. Francis was forced to send free balls or two-hand shots across when her tough serves had the Flyer back row scrambling to pass.
That led to seven-straight from BDS and an 11-8 Eagle advantage. A Caitlin Jarosz kill put a stop to the run, but the Eagles scored three more in a row and had five championship points.
St. Francis saved all of them starting with a Kylee Wessel kill, BDS hitting error, Weidner kill, Weidner block and another Weidner kill. A whistle on a play at the net ended five consecutive Flyer points. St. Francis then had a shot to tie but saw the BDS back row dig it up and Regan Alfs send the winner off the block at the left pin.
St. Francis also nearly came back from a big first-set deficit, led 23-22 after trailing 20-9, but lost four of the next five and let it slip away. The Flyers lost the first four of the second set and never came any closer than three points the rest of the way.
They finally put the nerves away in the third and led start to finish. It was an early 7-4 hole in the fourth when St. Francis took control with 10 of the next 14.
Korus felt the slow starts had to do with nerves. He had never coached in the Devaney Center before and expected a team that had also never played on such a big stage would have to work through some early adversity.
He just never imagined his group would struggle quite this much.
"The first two games, we were a deer in the headlights. Third and fourth game, we finally started playing our game a little bit. Fifth game, it was just...it was the last girl standing," he said.
"We finally started to relax. We weren't as scared. We were like a deer in the headlights and they were a Mack truck coming right at us. We just couldn't stop anything at the net."
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Early troubles also had to do with Eagle junior Macy Kamler. Kamler finished with 30 kills on 74 swings and set a tone early with eight kills in the first set.
"We couldn't get a block on her. We thought she was going one way and she'd take the ball the other way," Korus said. "We just couldn't get a bead on her."
Allison Weidner did what she could to provide a response but St. Francis didn't have a second consistent option through the first two sets. Weidner had six of the team's eight kills in the first and two of six in the second.
Wessel and Jarosz began to find a rhythm after that, and not surprisingly, St. Francis found its way into the match.
St. Francis hit .000 after the first set and was negative -.056 following the second before improving to .051 after three and .099 through four. The Flyers finished better than the Eagles .109-.096 by the time it was over.
St. Francis also had more than 20 fewer digs than BDS early but closed that gap to 88-77 at the end of the match.
"Defense. Defense wins championships. It can't be truer, even in volleyball," Korus said about what the Flyers did better after a poor start. "You start making saves and our hitters got better opportunities, and they feel more comfortable."
But all of it, the statistical improvement, the near comeback in the first set, the near comeback in the fifth, the led in the fifth, none of it really matters now to a group that was looking for more than just points of pride.
"I think some of the girls felt a little out of sync but did a nice job in the end," Korus said. "I can go home now thinking, 'Two points from my kingdom.' I don't know. It was so close."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.