SALEM - The next stop for the South Range volleyball team is Barberton.
The top-seeded Raiders showed why they were one of the best teams in the area as they knocked off second-seeded Cardinal Mooney 25-16, 25-14, 27-25 to clinch the Division III district championship at Cabas Gymnasium on Wednesday.
"We're just focused on playing our game, earning it," South Range coach Rachell Storm-Baker said. "Tonight was a great game, we had to fight for it."
South Range (23-2) will meet tonight's Smithville district winner of Orrville and Wooster Triway at 6 p.m. next Wednesday at Barberton High School in a Div. III regional semifinal.
The Raiders (23-2) controlled the first two sets with a strong front line of Stevie Taylor, Lynnie Ritter and Madison Juillerat. While at first fighting off mental mistakes, they forced Mooney into the same errors and opened up large leads.
Taylor, who had 21 digs, 11 kills and six points, felt that the Raiders' mission was accomplished.
"We came on and did what we had to do," Taylor said. "We didn't take them lightly. We came out, played our best game, and I'm really proud of us."
Along with Taylor, Ritter also had a strong showing with 13 kills, four digs, two aces and five points. Jordan Youngs also had 34 digs, 13 points and four aces, and Emily Moretti had 10 points and 19 digs.
The Cardinals (21-4) were outmatched throughout the first two sets by the Raiders. Maddie Abrigg and Samantha Blasko worked the front line strong, and Lauren Lottier helped the serving effort. When both teams engaged in lengthy volleys, however, the Cardinals lost their focus and allowed those large leads.
Mooney coach Tony Gorvet noted the disappointment in the mistakes.
"We played a little sloppy, we made a lot of mistakes," Gorvet said. "You have to play your best game. We did not, but they did, and they're a great champion, and they deserve it."
The Cardinals were not only more focused in the third set, they were also in control. Big plays from Gina Patella and McKenzie Reese, along with Raider miscues, gave the Cardinals a 24-19 lead.
Then Mooney lost enough focus to let South Range take over.
"I thought that if we could get them through the third game, we can have a run at them," Gorvet said. "With our athleticism, I thought that we could go five."
Even the Raiders knew that both teams were fighting to keep their seasons alive.
"Mooney was playing to not end their season," Storm-Baker said. "That's expected of them, and honestly our girls needed to play a little better, but I'm proud of them."
Reese led the Cardinals with 16 kills, followed by Lottier with 21 digs and Patella with 28 assists.
Last year Orrville was a 25-17, 15-25, 25-16, 25-11 over South Range in the regional semifinal. While it remains to be seen who South Range's regional opponent will be, last year's Red Riders eventually went on to the state volleyball tournament.
"We've got unfinished business," Taylor said.