There’s no messing around for the Kenston volleyball team now that it’s win-or-go-home time, as the Lady Bombers have soared high above a pair of “Heights” to get their postseason flight under way.
Kenston flew by Shaker Heights and Maple Heights during Division I Solon District action and is set for a third consecutive finals showdown against the Solon Lady Comets at 7 p.m. Thursday. Solon won in 2011, Kenston in 2012.
During their playoff opener against Shaker last Thursday, the top-seeded Lady Bombers secured a sweep, 25-4, 25-5, 25-6.
And during the semifinals on Tuesday, Kenston beat Maple, 25-15, 25-12, 25-9.
Head coach Steve Scherlacher wasn’t sure whether he was surprised by the domination.
“No, no, well, yeah. My prediction was, if we played well, the scores would be 15, 15, 15, and we were able to do better than that,” he said about Tuesday’s win. “I think, mentally we challenged them, and we just kept coming. We’re good in the seventh spot, eighth spot, and that depth makes it difficult for our opponents sometimes. And they didn’t react as well as I predicted. They still have got great players on that team.”
Leading the stats board against Maple Heights, senior hitter Jaime Kosiorek tallied eight kills, senior libero Stephanie Bindernagel collected eight digs, senior setter Lori Zagar raised 22 assists and two aces, and junior blocker Jennifer Smith put up four brick walls.
After suffering ligament damage to her thumb on her non-hitting hand, Smith was questionable for Tuesday’s game but managed to get back out the hard floor to propel the Lady Bombers to victory.
“Well, I would like to have the matches back that we lost without Jen Smith to see what would really happen, because we’re a good blocking team, but she takes it to another level,” Scherlacher said. “So it made a big difference for us.”
Kenston finished its regular season at 16-6 and ranked No. 13 among Division I teams in the state, according to Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association pollsters.
The Lady Bombers’ losses, however, came against other state powerhouses like Toledo St. Ursula Academy, which is ranked No. 1 in Division I, and Padua Franciscan, which is ranked No. 1 in Division II.
In Chagrin Valley Conference action, Kenston continued its dominance with sweeps across the board to extend its conference win streak to 110 games since rejoining the CVC in 2005. Even the Lady Bombers junior varsity team executed straight sweeps across the conference.
“It was a pretty dominating performance for the program as a whole,” Scherlacher said. “One of our goals based on creating depth was to have those types of performances in times where they didn’t necessarily need have to focus 100 percent, and they accepted that challenge and did a great job.”
Returning from their program’s first Division I state final-four appearance, some may not have expected the Lady Bombers to lose six matches in the regular season since they did in fact return all their starters from a year ago.
However, with a new head coach, there was an adjustment period, Scherlacher said about himself as the team’s new leader at the helm.
“We’ve gone through that time and got to know each other,” he said. “Then, with Jen Smith getting hurt, we’ve had to try and work our way through that, but we’re excited to get into the postseason. Regardless of the six kids who are going to be out on the floor, we know we’re going to compete well. So we’re excited to see what we can do.”
Stats aside from the Lady Bombers’ first two postseason victories, Scherlacher said the team focus was what really stood out.
“We haven’t given up more than 15 points, and our level of intensity and focus is a step up from the regular season,” he said. “I expect it to be another step on Thursday, and that’s good for us. The regular season is the regular season, and the postseason is when you make history. So we’re doing a good job of being focused in our matches.”
After beating Maple Heights on Tuesday, Kenston had the luxury of scouting Solon during the Lady Comets’ semifinals sweep against Brecksville.
While Solon 6-foot-1 junior Breana Jeter was fourth in the Lady Comets’ kills column with six finishes, Scherlacher said she’s the primary weapon that Kenston will have to stop.
“We have to find a way to slow down Jeter,” he said. “We have to find a way to slow down some other hitters too, and at the same time we have to get some good performances from our players. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but I like our chances. I like our chances against anyone. But we have to show up, and we have to play.”