Newton Falls survives tourney scare, beats Berkshire

LEAVITTSBURG – Monday mornings often bring with them the worst wake-up calls.

The Newton Falls volleyball team was lucky enough to endure a good one at the Division III sectional semifinal.

Berkshire gave the Tigers a scare by winning the first set, but Newton Falls pieced together a big comeback in the second game and carried the momentum for a 3-1 victory over the Badgers.

The senior-laden Tigers were admittedly a bit nervous as they faced a win-or-go-home scenario, with six players taking part in what could have been their final game. The same feeling that led to their anxiety – and a 26-24 loss in the first set – also fueled their rally.

“There’s no tomorrow, it’s do or die time,” Newton Falls coach Kristina Baker said. “Most of (the seniors) have been exposed to the tournament for four years, so they know what is expected of them. That experience really helped us keep it together.”

Berkshire almost pulled it apart. The Braves, who had a lead in all four games, went up 17-11 in the second set before Newton Falls (11-10) slowly worked its way back into the game. They finished with a flurry, scoring the final eight points to win the set, 25-21.

“The fact that we can pick each other up in situations really helps us a lot,” Newton Falls senior Hannah Zelle said. “We’ve all played volleyball together since seventh grade, all the seniors, and we know how we work together. We know every situation, every scenario and we know the best and the worst of each other – so we know how to fix it.”

The inexperienced Braves, who have just one senior, seemed a bit rattled by the intensity of Newton Falls. The Tigers shouted in excitement after points, encouraged one another after a bad play and communicated well throughout the game. They just do it in a way that can be a little intimidating.

“A lot of us are very loud – like me,” Zelle said with a laugh. “That really helps us when we’re upbeat and really loud, and we can tell when they start to get down. That’s when our momentum picks up.”

The Tigers cruised in the final two games, 25-16 and 25-12. Brooke Barreca and Gabby Kline tied for the team lead with 15 kills each. Kate Wainwright earned 25 assists, and Madison Spahlinger added four aces. Zelle was second in assists (12), aces (2) and digs (14).

Newton Falls now squares off with Gilmour Academy at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at LaBrae High School.