Going in and defending the target on your back while playing well is another.
That is exactly what the No. 4-ranked Monroeville volleyball team finished off on Saturday. The Eagles plowed through No. 12 Dalton, 25-15, 25-17, 25-18, in a Division IV regional championship match on Saturday at Uniontown Lake High School.
"Dalton is a very, very good team," Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. "We knew they were going to come out and play hard. We were ready for it."
The Eagles improved to 26-1 overall and will face No. 2 New Bremen (26-1) in the state semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University.
"I thought we did a good scout on Dalton and really took away their middle attack," Snook said. "That was what we saw in their regional semifinal and they dominated it. My kids followed the game plan and did a really nice job doing that."
It was business as usual for Monroeville. It defeated an opponent without dropping a game for the 22nd time this season.
"It is very special to me," Eagles' senior Kelsie Palmer said. "Not very many teams get to go to Dayton two years in a row, or even at all in high school. I am just very excited that we have such great team chemistry."
Monroeville wasted little time jumping on the Bulldogs (24-3). With Palmer serving, the Eagles won 10 points in a row for a 11-1 lead. Palmer served up a pair of aces and setter Camryn Hedrick recorded a pair of kills in the run. Palmer connected on 21 of 22 serves on the day.
"Kelsie has an aggressive serve and she has been serving well all year," Snook said. "It is just the consistency, but today, she was on. She was hitting the spots the coaches were giving her."
Dalton played evenly through the rest of the game, never challenging the Eagles. Three straight errors by the Bulldogs kept the Monroeville lead at 16-6 before Adrian Barman served up an ace.
Hedrick and Palmer combined on a block to make it 23-12 after an error by Dalton, Graisyn Yoder scored a kill on a tip to give Monroeville the early lead.
"Our big goals started back in Week 1," Snook said. "Actually, it was not even Week 1. We had big goals started the week after we lost — maybe even the night of the loss last year in the state tournament. A lot of kids are back from last year and they are motivated."
Lydia Landoll and Palmer each connected on kills as the Eagles won the first three points of Game 2. After a kill by Dalton's Brennah Arnold, Palmer recorded a block and Landoll served up an ace to send Monroeville off and running.
The Bulldogs were within two points later when the Eagles picked up six straight points for a 12-4 lead. Monroeville was able to keep a comfortable lead and it was 16-8 after kills by Reece Kluding and Hedrick.
Monroeville extended the lead to as many as 10 points and took a commanding lead after a kill from Yoder and clean ace by Barman.
"We have been talking that we are playing to win," Snook said. "We are not playing not to lose. We are going to control the tempo and make people defend us."
Game 3 proved to be a little more difficult for the Eagles. Playing with a sense of urgency, Dalton came out fired up and even had leads of 7-2 and 9-4 early in the game.
But, wanting to not extend the match, Monroeville fought back. The Eagles consistently won points in bunches, clawing their way back into the game. They hit the throttle midway through the game, using a 10-2 run to turn a 12-8 deficit into a 18-14 advantage.
The Bulldogs were within three points a couple times, but never any closer. The last came at 21-18, but Maura Brown scored consecutive kills and after a Dalton error, Kluding blasted a kill into the corner of the court to send Monroeville into celebratory mode.
"We talk about all year that we are going to face adversity and that is what we did in Game 3," Snook said. "It was nice to see them fight back and then take control."
The Eagles used balanced hitting to attack Dalton at all angles. Brooks led Monroeville with nine kills while Yoder and Palmer each had seven kills. Brown added six kills.
"We have a plethora of hitters and that is what makes so hard to defend," Snook said. "When the defense is staying on one, then we have a one-on-one with someone else. I thought Dalton did a great job of playing defense and balls we are used to dropping would come back. It was nice that my kids stayed composed and handled the free ball."
Hedrick had 31 assists while Landoll connected on all 11 of her serves to go with 14 digs. Barman added 12 digs while Yoder paced Monroeville with 17 digs.
"We have advanced this far two years in a row," Brooks said. "It is a great feeling. We have to focus really well in practice next week."
When it comes to New Bremen, it is a rematch of last year's state semifinal. Monroeville controlled the match early before the Cardinals stormed back for a 19-25, 23-25, 25-19, 25-20, 15-10 victory. New Bremen topped defending state champion, No. 3 Calvert on Saturday in four games to advance.
"We have that chip on our shoulder," Snook said. "We were up 2-0. That is a huge chip that I think my kids want to fight back. We know it is going to be a very, very tough semifinal."