Aurora volleyball - Tia Campanelli

Monroe Catholic setter Tia Campanelli goes through a pre-serve motion of bouncing the ball during the first set of Saturday's Aurora Conference Tournament championship against Valdez at Eielson High School. Monroe won in five sets. DANNY MARTIN/NEWS-MINER

Monroe Catholic setter Tia Campanelli was known for her serving and passing for most of Saturday night’s championship match against the Valdez Buccaneers in the Aurora Conference Volleyball Tournament on Eielson Air Force Base.

However, her persona changed during the last side-out in the match’s tiebreaking fifth set in the Eielson High School gymnasium.

The Rams junior became known as the player who delivered the match-winning point in Monroe Catholic’s five-set rally in the Eielson High School gymnasium.

Campanelli’s push kill  over the left side of the net capped Monroe’s 28-26, 14-25, 25-9, 23-25, 15-10 victory to give the Rams the Aurora tournament’s championship trophy and the conference’s top seed for this week’s Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Alaska Class 3A State Championship in Anchorage.

“I felt like I was in a really good spot to do it,” said Campanelli, who also served a team-high four aces,  distributed 37 assists and recorded 16 digs in the contest, which lasted more than two hours.

“I put it down and I was kind of nervous, but it ended up being a kill and I am so proud,” she added with a smile.

Rams head coach Dave Obermeyer wasn’t suprised to see Campanelli deliver the match-winning point.

“We run a 5-1 (offense), so everything runs through Tia,” he said. “She works really hard at what she does.”

Besides gaining the Aurora tournament title, the Rams earned the conference’s top seed for the Class 3A tournament of the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Volleyball State Championships on Thursday through Saturday in the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Valdez, last year’s Aurora tournament champion and 3A state runner-up, will be the conference’s second seed at this year’s state tournament.

“This was awesome for these ladies, especially our seniors,” Obermeyer said of the conference-tournament title and state-tournament berth for Monroe. “It’s a great send-off. They worked hard for four years to get here.”

Three of the Rams’ four seniors— Madelaine Muramoto, Chloe Maynard and Jenna Hernandez — played Saturday. The other one, Lilleotte DeMeritt, is sidelined by an injury.

Maynard produced 30 kills and she and sophomore Sophia Stepovich made eight blocks each Saturday. Muramoto finished with 12 kills and 16 digs, and Hernandez had a team-best 18 digs. 

The Rams saw the Buccaneers working hard Saturday, too. 

Valdez forced the fifth set by winning the fourth set after trailing 22-16. A kill by Savannah Cockerham put the Buccaneers ahead 24-23 and Maison Anderson followed with a block in the next side-out for the set-winning point.

“I’m sure everyone started giving up because everyone was  tired after playing the Hutch game,” said Cockerham, a junior outside hitter who also served seven aces in the first two sets Saturday.

“Then we started gaining a few points back (in the fourth set) and everyone got their confidence back up.”

Valdez lost to Monroe in four sets Friday in the winner’s bracket, putting the Buccaneers in the elimination-bracket final Saturday morning against the Hutchison Hawks.

Valdez defeated Hutchison 23-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 to set up Saturday’s championship match against Monroe.

The fourth set of the championship match proved to be a wake-up call for the Rams.

“I just told them that they’re not going to give it to you,” Obermeyer said. “You have to go out there and take it. It’s up to you if you want it or not, so go out there and play your hardest.”

 Said Campanelli, “I think we realized we weren’t winning. You have to win three sets in order to finish the game (match) and we thought we had already finished the game.

“We woke up and we were like ‘We need to keep fighting.’ And then we fought and finished.”

The Rams also got two aces from Casey Elterman and Delaney Ott.

Earlier Saturday, Hutchison won 20-25, 25-12, 25-15, 25-14 over the Aurora-tournament host Eielson Ravens in an elimination match.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.