SERENA — After trailing throughout a first-set loss Friday, Lexington High School's volleyball team easily could have cowered to a powerful Newark squad.
Instead, to their credit the Minutemen regrouped and pushed the Class 1A Serena Super-Sectional to a third set.
"I tell the girls a lot, when you're wearing purple you just fight and fight hard," said Lexington coach Kristin Stauter. "You try to let go of a mistake quickly in your mind so that you can move on to the next (play)."
Ultimately, the Minutemen could not overcome the height and strength of star Norsemen freshman hitter Madi Malone, whose 18 kills sent Newark to a 25-20, 22-25, 25-19 victory and the school's first state berth.
"You can tell that Lexington is tested. You can tell that they've been in battles because they played well in a tight battle," said Newark coach Tonya Grayson. "Fortunately, my girls were just a little more battle-tested."
The Norsemen improved to 34-3 ahead of Friday's 9 a.m. state semifinal against Payson Seymour at Redbird Arena. The second semifinal features Durand and Stewardson-Strasburg.
Jayden Standish topped Lexington with 11 kills while Lauren Boyd followed at nine, with both notching seven service points. Raelyn Payne totaled 34 digs and Emma White delivered 34 assists as the Minutemen ended at 30-8.
"It hurts to lose something this big, I know. I've been there and I've done it as a player and as a coach," said Stauter. "But I'm so proud of the way that they fought and represented our community and our school here tonight."
Newark raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set and never looked back, although Lexington got within two points on two occasions. The Norsemen started fast again in the second, but this time the Minutemen had a response bolstered by improved defense.
Tia Hardt gave Lexington its first lead of the night at 5-4 by following a Standish kill with an attack that broke through a Newark block. That first advantage didn't last, but consecutive Boyd kills put the Minutemen up 12-10.
They never relinquished the lead, despite Newark pulling even twice. A Sydney Kunkel kill made it 23-21 and the Norsemen made two errors on the next three volleys as Lexington extended the match.
"I few momentum points and Jayden Standish coming on in the middle of that set — I mean, she was on the whole game — but that gave them a bit of confidence and they could run with it," said Stauter.
"We did some adjustments. We're not a big blocking team; our front row, we don't average a lot of height and that's not our game. We get some touches here and there, but we make up for it with our really scrappy defense."
But Newark surged to a 9-3 advantage early in the third and Lexington could not recover. A Kunkel block got the Minutemen within four at 22-18, but that's as close as they got.
Malone was complemented by seven kills from sophomore Mattie Chapman, who also registered five blocks while Malone had three. Sophomore Maggie Scott booked 18 digs and junior Olivia Nelson had 24 assists.
"She's tall but she has a really great vertical and a really powerful swing," Stauter said of Malone. "She handles herself a lot like a senior would even though she's a freshman. She definitely has a lot of confidence behind her play, which is big in a game like this."