PLEASANT VALLEY —
After overcoming Weir in the sectional semifinal, Fairmont Senior found itself in a place the Polar Bears haven’t been in 10 years: a sectional final.
Despite falling short of a win, the Polar Bears made leaps and bounds to their season and left with some added motivation for next season.
In the first match, Weir jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, but Fairmont Senior would battle back and finish the next three sets on top.
Kim Persina would lead the way for Weir, closing out the set by scoring three of the Riders’ last five points.
Juniors Kaden Whaley and Emily Stoller were seemingly unstoppable in the match.
The Polar Bears jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the second set, led by a steady dose of Whaley early on.
“We talk a lot,” Whaley said. “Talking leads to good passes, which causes good sets, which causes good hits, so I think we were doing everything pretty well.”
To close out the set, her teammate, Stoller, pounded home six kills in the last 14 points as the Polar Bears closed to set on by scoring 14 unanswered points en route to a 25-6 win.
The next two sets saw much of the same from the tandem.
Fairmont Senior would go on to win the next two sets, 25-19 and 25-16.
For the match, Whaley led the team with 22 kills, 11 blocks and 21 digs. Stoller had 20 kills, eight blocks and seven digs. Senior Ali Cumberland added 22 digs and 18 assists. And senior Gabi Pearse added two aces and 18 digs.
“We knew that we could beat Weir because we’ve beaten them before,” Whaley said. “But we knew that they were really good, and we didn’t want it to end.”
Weir was led by Persina, who finished the match with 16 kills.
After topping Weir, Fairmont Senior advanced to play Oak Glen, who knocked them off last season in the early stages of the tournament.
They wouldn’t have much luck against them again this year.
The Polar Bears kept up with the hard-hitting Golden Bears, but Oak Glen seemed to always put together a long string of points to pull away in each of the three sets.
In the first set, Fairmont Senior jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but the Golden Bears soon pushed their way ahead, leading as much as 11 points towards the end.
“That happens often,” Oak Glen head coach Ethel Riser said.
It wasn’t just one girl for Oak Glen that would score, though. The Golden Bears had a full front line of hitters to carry the weight.
“I have six hitters on the court at any one time. They can all hit,” Riser said. “The ball gets moved around, and we can get one down.”
For the Polar Bears, this was something they had expected all season.
“As far as our non-conference games this season, we intentionally scheduled a lot of triple-A teams,” said Fairmont Senior assistant coach Mellisa Jura. “We knew the caliber of Oak Glen. We knew to compete against them we’d have the play tough competition the rest of the year.”
The Polar Bears, despite the final scores, were in each and every set, giving the Golden Bears a run for the money. But at the end of the day, they were overpowered, losing 25-13, 25-11 and 25-14.
Whaley again led the way with 12 kills, five blocks and six digs in the match. Stoller added five kills, three blocks, one ace and four digs.
“She finished this year with more kills this season than she did last year as a sophomore,” Jura said of Whaley. “Stoller’s hitting has doubled this year. And that’s against better competition.”
Cumberland had six assists, five digs and two kills. Pearse added six assists, five digs and two kills. And Jasmine Johnson added seven assists, one dig and two kills in the final match.
For the Golden Bears, Vanessa Hissam finished with 12 kills and Jessica Stivason added nine kills.
“We didn’t expect to be the most successful team in the past decade,” Jura said of her team’s success in 2013. “We didn’t win the championship, but we made it a step further (than last season).”
The Polar Bears will return the bulk of their lineup next season, including Whaley and Stoller, and Jura believes the success that the girls saw this season will only motivate them to go even further next season.
“Overall we’re pretty confident,” Jura said. “We’re pretty comfortable going into next year, as well.”
As for the Golden Bears, they’ll advance to play in the regional tournament and continue their journey towards a state title.
Email Matt Welch at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.