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Three months ago, the North Oldham Mustangs entered the 2012 season with a nearly unbearable amount of pressure hanging on their shoulders. On Oct. 27, they lived up to expectations by returning to the state’s biggest stage and walking away with two wins.
Though their run didn’t end quite the way they hoped — a 3-0 loss to Mercy in the state semifinal game — coach Brian Jones said he is proud of what his girls accomplished.
More than just a return appearance, what set this team a part was the way in which they responded to adversity over the course of the season. That started with the team’s come-from-behind win in the district final against rival South Oldham.
“We played good all year, but district finals is when they started to fight in that five-setter against South and they never stopped,”Jones said, “It’s amazing where we wanted to get back to. I said all season that weren’t there yet, but we were there (against Mercy). We played amazing and it was amazing to watch them play at that tempo.”
Their run in the state tournament started Friday night as the Mustangs squared off with 5th Region champion, Central Hardin.
After falling early in the first set, freshman Casey Foote rallied North from a 11-8 deficit to retake the lead at 15-14 although Central went on to win 25-23.
Any rust North had in the first set didn’t show in the second as the Mustangs rallied with a vengeance, dealing a decisive 25-16 blow to regain their footing.
That carried over into the third and fourth sets as the Mustangs cruised from there, winning 25-18, 25-15.
They returned to the court Saturday morning against Campbell County and picked up where they left off, knocking out the Camels in straight sets.
After picking up a 25-17 win to start the match, North opened up the throttle in set two, roaring out to a 25-8 victory to increase the lead to 2-0. They’d close things out in the final set with a 25-17 to punch their ticket for a return trip to the final four.
That’s where things went south as the Mustangs struggled to find a rhythm upon their return to the court. That came to a head early in the match as the Jaguars opened up a 25-15 lead to go up 1-0.
North dug in but Courtney Crable and Mercy proved to be too much, taking the second set as well.
“She’s tough,” Jones said. “She jumps so high she hits over your block. A hitter like that is hard to defend. You can’t take everything away from her. We finally switched our rotation around where we had Casey (Foote) defending her on the back row and that’s when we started being able to defend her a little bit better.”
The third set started much like the two before it but the Mustangs refused to go away down the stretch, even taking a 20-19 lead at one point.
The Jaguars rebounded and ended the match with a narrow 25-23 win.
North Oldham finished the season with a 30-11 record and Jones credited much of what his team was able to achieve to a strong group of senior leaders. In addition to losing Eighth Region Player of the Year, Madison Tinder, they’ll also say goodbye to All-Region players Amanda Marquez and Shelby Foote.
“This season has been awesome,” Tinder said. “I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other team. The last two years have been the best two years of my life. I hope they carry on the tradition of going to state. We were kind of iffy at the beginning of the season but we practiced so hard and worked on our defense. We just got to this point. It keeps me speechless about how much me worked in this last six months. All of it paid off.”
As for what they bring back, the implications of this run go deeper than just this season, Jones said.
Since his arrival in 2007, the Mustangs have been to three state tournaments. With a talented young corps ready to take over next season, that should be a trend in Goshen for years to come.
Two members of that group, sophomore Mikaela Beyea and freshman Casey Foote, have a head start after earning All-State tournament honors this season.
“It’s amazing momentum (for next season),” Jones said. “We had to name the All-Tournament team and that’s one of the things that I hate the most but when we thought about who was the most consistent and who really, really helped us out throught the entire tournament, it was those two kids. And that’s amazing to have a freshman and a sophomore step up like that.”
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