As the final point hit the floor, the Norwalk volleyball team celebrated briefly before heading to the locker room after beating visiting Bellevue Thursday at Norwalk High School in three games, 25-23, 25-20, 25-13.
Sometimes being young and inexperienced isn't a bad thing. Norwalk has three sophomores, two freshmen and a junior in the starting lineup and just two seniors on the roster that appeared oblivious to clinching a share --at least -- of their 13th Northern Ohio League championship in program history.
It is the fourth league title in the past nine seasons for Norwalk, whicih improved to 15-5 overall and 12-0 in the NOL. In 39 league games, Norwalk is an impressive 36-3.
"I don't even think my kids knew that, so they just came out and played," first-year Norwalk coach Angie Kalizewski said of the NOL title. "I have so many kids in this group that play (in the Junior Olympics) and have been to the final five at Nationals. They don't know pressure here, yet.
"I'm hoping they never find it and just play. They are pretty much ignorant to it. They are so used to being in this position from all of that, so it makes it nice for me because I don't have to try and create those situations. The youth is almost helping us right now because our young ones are the ones who have been through that, so here it's just another match to them."
Bellevue proved more than capable of making it interesting from the outset, rallying from a 19-15 deficit to pull within 24-23. However, an out of bounds block at the net ended the game for Norwalk.
"When we met them the first time it wasn't a contest, but the girls played hard tonight," Bellevue coach Karen Irons said. "We gave them all we could handle in the first two games and I'm just proud of the way they hung in there."
In Game 2, Norwalk jumped out to a 9-4 lead but Bellevue went on to score 11 of the next 15 points to take a 15-13 lead on a kill by Katie Stephens. Each team continued to go back-and-forth, and Stephens cut the Bellevue deficit to 21-20 with a block at the net.
That would be it for the Lady Red, however. Norwalk got a pair of kills from Oakley Shane and Sam Obringer, an ace by Abby Moffit and a hitting error by Bellevue to close out the 25-20 win.
"Bellevue came out strong and played us much better than the first time," Kalizewski said. "But the girls stayed calm even though they were down the majority of the first game. We came back well and did what we needed to do, especially controlling the ball, which is a big thing for us."
Game 3 wasn't close from the outset. Norwalk raced out to a 14-6 lead and eventually built it up to 21-9 before the Lady Red managed to trade points the rest of the way in a 25-13 decision.
"For me, this is exciting," Kalizewski said. "It's my first year and they've done so well and they've played so hard. I feel very fortunate that we're where we are and I'm looking for a bright future.
"We're ready to move into that postseason and see what we can do. Their obviously young, but they're excited. We have a long road ahead of us, and that's a good thing."
For Norwalk, Sam Obringer was 29-of-30 hitting with 11 kills and 14 digs while Shane was 23-of-27 hitting with 12 kills, 13 digs and four aces on 14-of-18 serving.
"Our right sides dominated, and Oakley Shane played very well," Kalizewski said. "The poor kid is probably tired, because she dominated tonight."
Lauren Schluchter added seven kills while Moffit was 55-of-55 setting with 22 assists and McKenzie Hall was 50-of-50 setting with 20 assists. Kelli Weininger had 11 kills on 17-of-19 hitting while Mikailey Rogers had 16 digs and was 14-of-15 serving and Lindsey Ziemkie had six kills.
Bellevue fell to 6-6 in the NOL with the loss.
"We've been up and down," Irons said. "We can compete with anybody, we have the talent. It's just a matter of keeping the intensity for an entire match."
Norwalk can clinch the title outright Tuesday at Shelby, who is second in league with a 10-2 mark. Bellevue is at the Oregon Clay Eagle Invite on Saturday before traveling to Galion Tuesday.