That is exactly what Bellevue was tasked with on Thursday against visiting Norwalk, which had won the last eight league championships across the Northern Ohio League and SBC Lake Division.
Bellevue's Payton Vogel was not to be stopped, however. The senior registered 27 kills, 15 digs, and four blocks to lead the Lady Red to a 25-18, 20-25, 25-20, 25-23, Sandusky Bay Conference Lake title-clinching win over the Truckers.
"Payton came in as a shy freshman with a lot of great athletic ability," Bellevue coach Karen Irons said. "She has shown so much over these four years. Tonight, I don't think she was going to let anybody stop her. I have never seen her so into it and so vocal. She wanted every ball and every set. She was going to win it no matter what."
Bellevue (17-5 overall, 8-2 SBC Lake) won its first league championship since 2005.
"It feels great," Irons said. "I am so proud of the girls. They worked hard and came out tonight wanting it. Their attitude was phenomenal and they kept it up the whole match. We played our volleyball."
The Lady Red took a 15-10 lead in Game 1 after consecutive kills from Vogel, but Norwalk (11-10, 7-3) responded. Carly Bilton recorded two kills to draw even at 18-18.
Bellevue dominated from that point on. Riley Mohr hit a kill before two kills and a block from Taylor Baxter. Molly Bullion added a kill before Norwalk coach Sarah Kipp called timeout. That did not help much as two errors by Norwalk gave Bellevue the opening game on the strength of the final seven points of the game.
"When you are in a championship match, you want to be up and in the lead from the start," Irons said. "To win Game 1 was huge."
Norwalk responded in Game 2, but not after another strong start by the Lady Red. Kills from Mohr and Baxter, coupled by an error by Norwalk opened a 10-5 lead for Bellevue. That was countered by a nine straight points by Norwalk to open a 14-10 edge, as a service error by Elyse Balduff halted the momentum.
Later, the lead was 17-13 when Madison Hrynciw reeled off three straight aces. But Bilton recorded a kill and a block, and Kelley put down one of her nine kills to push the lead back to four points. A rotation error and service error helped Norwalk even the match.
"We had a little bit of a letdown, which is natural," Irons said. "We fought back and got it within a point and got a little bit of momentum there and carried that into Game 3."
Game 3 was crucial to both teams, but it was Bellevue that controlled it from the beginning. The Lady Red did not open more than a three-point lead the entire game until Baxter's kill made it 14-10. The Truckers got within two points three times, but never any closer.
Kills by Vogel and McKenna Davis pushed the lead to 21-16 and Vogel added three more kills as Bellevue pushed ahead.
"We did not take care of the ball," Kipp said. "We had a lot of unforced errors that hurt us big time. I don’t feel that we ever got into a groove. It was so back-and-forth."
Norwalk came out strong in Game 4, taking a 10-7 lead after Mya Neuberger blasted one of her six kills. Norwalk maintained a three-point lead until two errors, coupled with a kill and block by Vogel gave Bellevue a lead it did not surrender.
"I think everybody played together," Vogel said. "When we got down, we stayed up and encouraged each other."
Later, an error by Norwalk and two kills from Baxter gave the Lady Red a 19-15 lead as Kipp called timeout. After Norwalk drew within 22-21, the teams exchanged the next four points before Vogel's final kill sent the gymnasium into a frenzy.
"We wanted to finish it in four games," Irons said. "We knew what Norwalk is capable of. We had to keep the intensity up. Norwalk was digging everything and my girls did not get frustrated. We were going to win by being aggressive."
Norwalk handed Bellevue its first loss back on Sept. 18, 25-15, 26-24, 28-26.
"The big difference was we had some more blocks the first time around and we took care of the ball," Kipp said. "Bellevue scored a lot out of the middle tonight and we did not prevent that the way we needed to."
Baxter tallied 14 kills and 10 digs while Davis had eight kills and three blocks. Mohr added five kills and three blocks, Bullion registered 55 assists, Morgan Dendinger tallied 13 digs, and Hrynciw added 10 digs.
"We had a great crowd on both sides," Irons said. "Our kids came out and supported the girls and we fed off of it."
For Norwalk, Bilton led the way with 12 kills. Delaney Thomas backed her with nine kills while Marie Clouse added six kills. Olivia Ward tallied 39 assists, 11 digs, and six kills while Lindsey Koenig recorded 19 digs.
"They are incredibly sad," Kipp said. "It was the league title. We gave to be disciplined and take care of the ball."