STEUBENVILLE - As Paul Heyman would say, the Oak Glen volleyball team showed why exactly it is the "reigning, defending," two-time West Virginia Class AA state champions.
The Golden Bears opened up their defense of their latest state title in grand fashion Wednesday night at Catholic Central with a 25-15, 25-15, 25-17, victory.
"The girls played really well for our first match," veteran Oak Glen (1-0) head coach Ethel Riser said. "They played hard. They played aggressively."
MIDDLE HITTER — Oak Glen’s Morgan Poling goes up for a spike during the second game of Wednesday’s 25-15, 25-15, 25-17 Golden Bears victory over host Steubenville Catholic Central.
-- Mike Mathison
IN THE GYM — Steubenvlle Catholic Central’s Robyn Runkel prepares to set a ball during Wednesday’s 25-15, 25-15, 25-17 loss at home to West Virginia power Oak Glen,
-- Mike Mathison
Oak Glen has won six state titles - 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Catholic Central (4-2) battled, but in the end the Golden Bears were just too tough for the Crusaders to handle.
"They are a nice team," first-year Catholic Central head coach Sherri Barber said. "They hit the heck out of it."
Individually for the Golden Bears, Morgan Poling collected 11 points, 11 kills, 11 blocks and seven digs, Vanessa Hissam two points, 12 kills, two blocks and eight digs and Madison Juszczak contributed 13 points, nine spikes, four kills and three blocks.
Jessica Hutton netted two assists, three kills and three blocks; Jessica Stivason six kills and eight digs; and Emmy Delekta three points, 19 sets, five assists and two digs. Kenzie Rosenlieb four points; 10 sets, three assists and two digs; Carissa Williams eight points, 57 sets and 23 assists; Alex Arnott one kill and one dig; and Kami Koper one point, one spike and five digs.
The Crusaders mounted a few charges during the match, but each time the Golden Bears had an answer.
"I hope so," Riser said. "I hope we keep doing that."
For the Crusaders, Megan Lloyd tallied five assists, two kills, one block and eight points; Monica Fischer seven kills, nine points and six digs; and Monica Rigaud eight kills, seven blocks and one dig.
Robyn Runkel recorded 15 assists and 19 points, and Kamy Belardine collected 11 digs and 10 points.
The Golden Bears outhit the Crusaders throughout the match.
"The same thing happened when we played Edison," Barber said. "We are not playing well against the good teams, or as good as we need to play.
"We are only hitting 20 percent. You cannot do that and win. You have to consistently hit the ball. They hit the ball well in practice every day. They just need to have more confidence that they can do it."
Oak Glen gained the early advantage in the first game. The Golden Bears led 4-1, 8-3, 10-5, 12-6 and 13-7. The Crusaders fought back for the first time in the match and pulled within 14-11.
Oak Glen responded and built its advantage back up to 21-15 forcing Barber to call a timeout. The timeout did not help the Catholic Central cause as the victors scored four straight points after it was called to win the game.
The Golden Bears also came out strong in Game 2.
The visitors from Hancock County took an early 9-2 lead. The Golden Bears appeared to be on the verge of running away with the second game, but the Crusaders fought their way back into the game. Catholic Central cut its deficit to two points at 13-11 forcing Riser to call a timeout.
After the timeout, the Golden Bears regained control of the game, and the Crusaders were forced to call timeout with Oak Glen leading 18-12. Oak Glen kept rolling after the timeout as it increased its lead to 22-13 forcing Barber to call another timeout.
The Golden Bears' lead grew to 24-13. The Crusaders were able to fight off two Oak Glen opportunities to finish out the game, but they were unable to hold out as the Golden Bears scored the next point to win their second-straight game by 10 points.
Catholic Central came out strong in the do-or-die third game.
The Crusaders led 4-0 and 7-2 before the Golden Bears scratched and clawed their way back into the game. They ended up tying the score at 7, and the game was also tied at 8.
Then, the Golden Bears capped off a four-point spurt to take an 11-8 lead. The Crusaders rallied to tie the score at 12.
Oak Glen countered by scoring the next three points of the game to go up 15-12. Later, the Golden Bears increased their lead to 22-15. The score was 24-16 when Barber called a timeout. The Crusaders scored the next point, but the one after that went to the Golden Bears enabling them to finish off the game and the match.
"Coming down here, we expected them to play well," Riser said. "They had played some games already. Ohio has been playing for two weeks. We just started, so they had the advantage of playing time over us."
Both of Catholic Central's losses have come against two of the top teams in the area. Edison defeated Catholic Central this season.
"They have the talent," Barber said. "I have seen it. If we play the way we are capable of playing, we can beat everyone on our schedule. I strongly believe that.
"I have a talented group of girls. We have lost to two nice teams.
"The girls don't give up. They are scrappers. They play with a lot of heart. They just have to believe in themselves more."
Both teams are scheduled to return to the court today at 5 p.m. at home. Oak Glen will face Brooke and Beaver Local in a tri-match. Catholic Central will take on Bridgeport.
"Our practices are hard," Riser said. "It shows in the games. The girls are ready for the season."