The Chardon Hilltoppers’ girls’ volleyball team’s wild ride came to an end when they lost 3-1 to Massillon Jackson in the Division I regional semifinals on Nov. 4 at Hudson High School.
The Polar Bears won 25-18, 26-28, 25-19, and 25-21.
Chardon’s (21-4) goal to begin the year was to capture the Western Reserve Conference title. The Hilltoppers had not won the WRC volleyball title since they joined the conference in 2015.
Although they missed out on the conference banner, finishing second to Kenston in the WRC, the Hilltoppers’ dominant season earned them the second seed in the Division I bracket, the highest postseason seeding since Alison Fisher became head coach in 2018.
After falling short of winning the conference title, Chardon made up for it by winning its first district championship in school history and advancing to the regionals.
The Hilltoppers needed to get past a red-hot Massillon Jackson team that had won 21 straight matches entering the regional semifinals.
The Polar Bears took a 3-0 lead in the first set but Chardon responded by going on an 8-5 run to tie the score at 8-8. Massillon Jackson swung the tide back in its favor and went on a 17-10 run to claim the first set.
“I think they were really gelling as a team,” said Fisher. “They had a lot of swings coming at us in the first set and took us off our game a little bit. We struggled with consistency.”
Massillon Jackson raced out to a 7-2 lead in the second set.
The Polar Bears prioritized defending Chardon sophomore outside hitter Emma McCartney. With the Hilltoppers’ leader in kills struggling to find open floor, it threw a wrench in Chardon’s offense.
Chardon started running some different plays and went on 13-7 run to take its first lead of the night in the second set at 15-14. The Polar Bears took back control to go ahead 21-18.
Four points away from falling into a 2-0 deficit, the Hilltoppers shifted into another gear and tied it up at 22-22.
Chardon finished off the comeback by stunning Massillon Jackson 28-26 to even the score at 1-1.
“We started to time up our blocks and picked up more balls in the back row,” noted the four-year coach. “I think that really helped and we started to play with more confidence and started to trust each other on the court.”
Chardon continued to hit its stride and held a 14-12 advantage in the third set but the Polar Bears scored five unanswered points before taking the third set by a final score of 25-19.
Massillon Jackson continued to have the hot hand and held a 21-15 edge in the fourth set. The Hilltoppers clawed their way back by going on a 6-2 run to trail by just two points but could not finish the comeback and saw their season come to an end.
McCartney led Chardon with 20 kills, 18 digs, three blocks, two aces and 10 service points.
“Emma’s got a lot of volleyball experience and has a good volleyball IQ,” noted Fisher. “She has a very quick read of the game. She’s a six-position player for us and has a very strong serve. She brings a lot of confidence to the court and when her game is on, the team plays to a different level.”
Although it marked the end of the line, the loss did not diminish what a special season it had been for Chardon.
“Their passion for the game of volleyball gave them so much motivation and they brought that every day to practice and every day to the game,” said Fisher. “They got along very well as a group. They just truly loved the sport of volleyball so when they stepped on the court every day in the regular season and playoffs it was really about them bringing their love of the game onto the court.”