One would think that a Division I final-four volleyball program that returned all of its starters from a season ago would have no problem rolling over opponents in an eight-team regular season tournament.
But when Kenston traveled to Gilmour on Saturday for the Lancer Invitational, the Lady Bombers were up against some of the top talent in Northeast Ohio.
Entering the tournament, the eight teams had a combined 52-16 record. Kenston was one of three contenders not ranked in the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association’s first weekly poll.
“All these kids on these teams train year round,” Kenston head coach Steve Scherlacher said. “There’s no hiding. So it was a good tournament for us.”
In Division I, Strongsville was ranked 13th and North Royalton 14th in Ohio, while Kenston, Stow and Medina Highland were unranked.
In Division II, Padua was ranked first and Lake Catholic fifth in the state entering the tournament.
In Division III, Gilmour was ranked fifth in Ohio. Nonetheless, the unranked Lady Bombers found themselves in the championship game against Padua after defeating Highland, 25-15, 25-19, and Lake Catholic, 25-21, 25-17.
The Lady Bruins improved to 12-0 on their season, however, with a convincing 2-0 sweep against Kenston for the tournament crown. Set scores were 25-17 and 25-13.
While the Lady Bombers had a goal to win, it was a big improvement from their sixth-place finish last year and their last-place performance two years ago, Scherlacher said.
“We didn’t reach that goal, but we played a lot better, and we had a lot more focus than I’ve seen before. So we’re getting a little better every day, and that’s exciting,” he said. “We still need to serve receive better – that’s crucial. Going forward, we also need more offense, and that’s something that should be pretty easy for us do to, because we have a lot of talented kids.”
During the Junior Olympics season, several of the top-ranked Lady Bruins are teammates with Kenston’s Jaime Kosiorek, Stephanie Bindernagel and Emily Newell. Losing to them is going to make everything easier for the Lady Bombers’ work ethic, Scherlacher said.
“It’s going to be easier to practice hard now on Monday, because we just lost, and we know we need to get better,” he said. “It’s going to be easier to convince them that we need to work hard in practice, and we’re naturally going to do it. They’re kids who want to be successful, and they’re going to work hard at it, so it’s going to be easier for us.”
Kosiorek, an outside hitter and Ohio University recruit, and Newell, a middle blocker and George Washington University recruit, were named to the all-tournament team following their runner-up finish.
Newell said the Lady Bombers left the court on a positive note, considering Kenston is more of postseason team.
“If you look back at our history, our tournaments are never really that great,” she said. “I think we don’t want to peak too soon, because we still have the whole rest of the season. And Kenston is usually, we peak at the end of the year. So day by day, we just get stronger and stronger, and, hopefully, our peak will come right when we need it during playoffs.
“It’s not like we wanted to lose, though. Every week we’re coming with the attitude to win. In the finals, Padua, they wanted it more than us. They came together better as a team. So we have a little more building to do as a team, but I think overall we did really well finishing second.”
On the opposite side of the bracket, the host Lancers beat North Royalton, 25-18, 23-25 and 25-17, then lost to Padua, 25-13, 25-19, before facing Lake Catholic in the third-place match.
Up against the Lady Cougars, Gilmour had its opportunity to shut the door in the first set but couldn’t get the job done. Lake Catholic went on to win a three-set match, 27-25, 20-25, 26-24.
Gilmour head coach Kelly Coughlin said his job was just to keep his players’ minds at ease as they hosted such a big-name tournament “It’s just a matter of keeping them relaxed, keeping them calm and going out and making plays, because, once it starts, everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face,” he said. “So you have a game plan until that first serve goes up, and then you just go out there and try to make plays.
“Losing to Lake in a close game like that with missed opportunities, you know, it’s frustrating, but it’s not devastating. It’s something we’ll learn from.”
After making two consecutive state finals appearances, the Lady Lancers lost in the regional semifinals to end their 2012 campaign.
Gilmour’s seven seniors, including 6-foot-3 University of Iowa recruit Jess Janota, who has 300-plus career blocks, don’t want to repeat last year’s early elimination, Coughlin said.
“Yeah, we have that sense of urgency that we didn’t have a year ago,” he said. “There is no more tomorrow for these girls, and they realize it. Jess has committed to Iowa, so the pressure of that decision is off. The other seniors around her know that this is the last season to compete.
“So it seems that, in practices and stuff, that everybody is just a little bit more focused. They’re worried about what they accomplish, because they know how important it is.”