Near the end of the fourth match of the season — a three-game sweep at Bellevue that dropped the Willard volleyball team to 1-3 — head coach Ashley Bond turned to assistant Tracey Hay and jokingly said she quit.
“You’re in charge, Tracey,” Bond remembered with a laugh.
Nothing was going right for the Crimson Flashes, who had played three quality teams in a row minus star hitter Lydia Wiers.
But on Thursday, Willard looked like the dominant team that wasn’t playing in its first regional match in 33 years. The Crimson Flashes dominated Wauseon (20-6) from start to finish, winning in three games, 25-17, 25-14, 25-16.
Willard (19-7) will play for a regional championship and a spot in the Division II state semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday vs. No. 3-ranked Parma Heights Holy Name (23-3).
“I remember that feeling of being right there,” Bond said of the Aug. 27 loss at Bellevue. “We just had to keep battling, and the girls believed that. We got Lydia back, and it was a matter of turning the switch.
“But to be picked fifth in the league and be in the Elite 8 — that’s a pretty big turnaround of events,” she added.
Thursday’s match was never at any point in question against the Indians. Willard instantly led Game 1 by a 5-0 margin. They kept that five-point lead through the early stages, then surged out to a 19-9 advantage as Wiers was getting fed often by setters Jena Adams and Chloe Weaver.
After the 25-17 win to set the tone, Willard initially struggled in Game 2. The Indians briefly had a 5-3 lead, and things were tight throughout the first 10 points.
But again, Lydia and Chloe Wiers, along with Cassidy Crawford, were never stopped.
An ace by Crawford opened up a 21-12 lead, and it was a formality from there as a Lydia Wiers kill and an out of bounds serve sealed the 25-14 win.
Similar to Game 2, the third game showed signs of potentially being close. It was just 10-8 in favor of the Flashes near the midway point — but Chloe Wiers sparked a five-point run with a big kill, and the Indians struggled defensively the rest of the way.
Leading 15-10, the Crismon Flashes scored six of the next seven points to take control and seal the victory with a 25-16 win.
Adams, a senior with more than 1,000 career assists, finished with 18 on Thursday. She noted a 2-0 rally past Lexington in a sectional title match, along with tough four-game wins over Norwalk and Perkins at the district last week prepared Willard for the regional.
“It made us want to push harder,” she said. “We knew what we had to do to get here, and those matches tested us to get to this point. This was one of our goals. We’ve made it this far, but we’re not done yet.”
Lydia Wiers finished with 22 kills and three blocks to pace Willard at the net. Chloe Wiers had seven kills and Crawford added six kills, while Alyse Cok had five.
“I had a feeling coming in if we swung well, then we were in good shape,” Bond said. “That’s a really great feeling to have beforehand. But our pass was on, and our serve receive was spot on so that we could swing.
“We had maybe one bad rotation at the start of Game 2,” she added. “But other than that, everything was on.”
Also for Willard, Weaver had 13 assists, and Haylie Hamons led the defense with 17 digs.
Adams talked about being one step away from the Final Four.
“It’s a crazy experience, but we knew we could do it from the beginning,” she said. “We just had to fight for it, because nobody expected us to get this far.”
And as for setting up Willard’s big front line at the net on a nightly basis?
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Adams said. “Ever since our freshman year, it’s been pretty fun to watch them put that ball away.”