Through two and a half sets, Franklin’s winner-take-all match with Plainfield looked like a nightmare to Grizzly Cubs coach Roxie Chapman.
The serving hadn’t been accurate, making it impossible for the Grizzly Cubs to build momentum. The loose balls seemed to be going the Quakers’ way, and when Franklin did piece together a solid attack, they had no answer on defense for the powerful swing of Plainfield outside hitter Olivia Utterback.
Finally, with her team already down two games and 11 points away from its first Mid-State Conference loss since 2013, Chapman called her players together and told them to just focus on having fun.
The Grizzly Cubs did — and turned the match around in the process.
Buoyed by strong serving from Cami Kelsay, Megan Thompson and Maddie Durst, Franklin overcame a 14-7 deficit in the third game, seized the momentum and never let it go. When the Quakers’ final attack in the fifth game fell harmlessly into a Franklin block, the Grizzly Cubs had, against all odds, claimed a 22-25, 20-25, 25-21, 26-24, 18-16 win over the Quakers and another conference title, keeping their six-year streak of league dominance alive.
“We ran into some adversity in the first couple games, and I felt like we did a good job of just sticking with it,” Chapman said. “I thought Maddie Durst did a good job coming in and serving, and so did Megan. We had a good team game, and everybody contributed.”
Despite their youth, the Grizzly Cubs (13-6, 7-0) seemed to carry the poise necessary to win down the stretch as the Quakers (20-4, 5-1) ran out of gas. One great example came in the fourth game, when Plainfield led 24-23 and had a chance to win the match, but fired an attack wide, giving Franklin one more chance to save itself.
The Grizzly Cubs didn’t waste it, getting a dump from setter Haley Haldeman and a Kelsay kill, evening the match and setting up the decisive fifth game.
“I think it’s definitely a mental thing,” said Kelsay, who finished with 23 kills. “When we’re down like that, we still had the fire to win, and we knew we could come back and do it.”
The win marked a sixth straight league crown for Franklin, one that Chapman admitted had a different feel to it. After losing five seniors from last year, this was the closest thing the Grizzly Cubs have seen to a rebuild during her tenure, and yet they stood victorious again.
“Losing such big players last year, five seniors and a Division I setter, this just means a lot more,” she said. “We had to really work for it this year.”