NEW CASTLE — It sounded like sneakers sliding across the gym floor. It ended with a thump that — for the first time all night — hushed the crowd at New Castle’s 9,314-seat Fieldhouse.
More than anything, it sounded painful.
When Mt. Vernon senior Mary Grace Ertel dove for a ball in the final set of the Sectional 9 finals on Saturday and wound up on the floor in front of the first row of bleachers, a rambunctious crowd of Marauder and Greenfield-Central volleyball fans went silent.
Ertel, already sporting a hefty brace on her left knee due to a previous injury, was slow to her feet after a scary hustle play but was able to continue. There was still unfinished business.
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With her team leading 13-12 in the fifth and final set, Mt. Vernon could not afford to lose its veteran leader, a four-year starter who, at the time, had 28 kills in a highly-competitive championship match.
It was her 29th kill, however, that proved most important.
Ertel took a pass on the left side of the court on the ensuing play and — despite being slightly beaten up — delivered a crucial kill that gave Mt. Vernon a 14-12 lead and the momentum it needed after three-straight Greenfield-Central points.
“I know she was in pain,” Marauders head coach Eric Bulmahn said of Ertel. “She knew she couldn’t come out. They look to her as an emotional leader, which is why that would have been a huge loss if she went into the bleachers. She’s kind of the glue.”
After Cougar freshman setter Molly Broome won a ball at the net to bring the Cougars to within one, 13-14, Marauder junior outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn, who was nearly unstoppable Saturday, delivered the game-winning spike to give Mt. Vernon a 15-13 win and its first sectional title since repeating during the 2009-10 seasons.
Mt. Vernon (29-4), led by Ertel and record setting performances from Bulmahn and junior libero Julia Wayer, slipped past the Cougars 3-2 after losing the first set and trailing 3-7 in the fifth.
The Marauders won 24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 15-13.
“That (match) had more twists and turns; it was incredible,” Bulmahn said. “That program has a great coach and some great competitors. Both teams played incredible defense. Neither team was going to give it up. It was a good statement for Hancock County.
“It was our time to be ahead but if that game (fifth set) goes to 25, I don’t know how the game ends.”
Jaclyn Bulmahn put up numbers that will be hard to touch with 38 kills and 27 digs (career highs), while Wayer did not let a ball drop around her, finishing with a school record 42 digs. She now has 545 digs on the season, also a program record, beating Jessie Earl’s (Auburn University) record of 459.
Greenfield-Central (21-12) senior Rachel Irbe, an Eastern Michigan commit, finished with 21 kills, five aces and 33 digs in her final match as a Cougar.
“This is how any championship should be,” Greenfield-Central head coach Deena Batton said afterwards. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls. They have grown through so much together. Over the last month or so they have really gelled.
“Give them (Mt. Vernon) a lot of credit; they’re a phenomenal team. It was just one of those things, within an arm’s reach.”
Juniors Emily Diehr (21 kills), Laura Banton (14) and Maddie Wise (12) also contributed to the offensive attack. Broome finished with 60 assists as junior libero Courtney Marchello added 22 digs.
The Cougars took set one after trailing 10-14 but climbed back and used a tipped ball by Diehr to win 26-24. The second set was much of the same, back- and-forth, with Mt. Vernon evening the match in another nail-bitter, 25-23.
Then the fun started.
Greenfield-Central jumped out to a 14-6 set-three lead and appeared to be in total control. However, two points by Jaclyn Bulmahn and a Cougar error sparked a 16-8 Marauder run to even the set at 22-all.
Bulmahn would score four of Mt. Vernon’s final five points in a come-from-behind win to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Set four would be the exact opposite. The Marauders led 16-8 and could smell the sectional championship. A 17-4 Cougar run, though, led by six points from Irbe, forced the breath-taking fifth set.
Three more points from Irbe gave Greenfield-Central a solid start and its aforementioned 7-3 lead. Mt. Vernon would answer with eight-straight points, including multiple kills by Ertel and Bulmahn, to give the Marauders an 11-7 lead and just enough room to come out on top.
Sophomore setter Meridan Eads paced Mt. Vernon with 35 assists and 23 digs, while junior Ashton Barr added 18 digs, 11 kills and 32 assists.
The Marauders turn to regional action and will host Center Grove (32-0) tonight at 7 p.m. The Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the state and country and feature at least eight Division I players on their roster, according to coach Bulmahn.
“I know those guys; there aren’t many weaknesses to point out,” Bulmahn said. “We need to clean up our passing, and we cannot give up free balls. If we do we will be toast against them. We just need to take hard swings every time and not get tentative.”
Match Score – Mt. Vernon 3, Greenfield-Central 2
24-26, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 15-13