The Lady Bombers’ season flashed before them as their backs were against the wall entering a fifth set during last Thursday’s district championship match against Solon.
It was the third straight meeting between Kenston and Solon in the finals, but never had the volleyball rivalry gone to five games.
Solon had all the momentum as the Lady Comets won game four, 25-23, despite having a service rotation infraction that resulted a four-point swing midway through. Solon had an 18-12 lead, but the illegal rotation adjusted the score to 15-13.
That did not have an effect on the outcome, however, as Solon hitters Julie Ludwig and Nikiiyah Gest were at the top of their games finding hardwood all over the other side of the court.
Kenston senior libero Stephanie Bindernagel said the Lady Bombers’ mental preparations allowed them to stay focused on the big picture and not get discouraged entering the fifth game.
“We talk all the time how we have to stay focused through every point and never let up, and always keep an eye on the prize,” she said. “I think we all said to each other that this could be our last game of the season. None of us wanted that, and I think that just gave us the extra boost we needed.”
With kills from Jaime Kosiorek, Jennifer Smith and Katie Coverdale, as well as an ace by Bindernagel and a block kill by Kosiorek, Kenston turned the table in a hurry for an early 6-2 lead in game five.
That was huge, because game fives are only scored to 15, Kosiorek said.
“Solon is a good team, and they bring a lot of energy,” she said. “When they get up and they have that momentum and they have that energy, it’s hard to stop, because they’re a bunch of fireballs, and that’s awesome for them. So for us to come out in game five and do what we did says a lot about the experience of our team and how much we want to win.”
While Kenston held a 6-2 advantage early on, the Lady Comets fought back and trailed just 12-11, even without Gest, who left the game with leg cramps when the score was 2-1.
The Lady Bombers’ experience of a state final four on their resume and six seniors who started since they were sophomores kicked in, as they eliminated late miscues.
Meanwhile, the younger Solon team committed three errors by three different players to gift-wrap Kenston’s final three points and the 15-12 match win.
Kenston senior Emily Newell said she had no doubt in her teammates, who play with ice-cold veins during intense game situations.
“It was crazy, is what I can say,” Newell said. “Solon came out and really played their heart out. They wanted to win, and they wanted to take us down, but we had the determination and courage to trot through that game. We have this saying in the gym to ‘Leave no doubt,’ and that’s what we said, and we just stuck to that the whole way throughout.”
With final game scores of 25-16, 19-25, 25-19, 23-25 and 15-12, Kenston clinched its second straight district crown.
“Ah, it’s awesome, just awesome. It was a fight, you know, blood on the floor,” Kosiorek said. “That fifth set, everyone was just exhausted, and our team had to come together and fight to that end, and it was just awesome. So nice. I love it.”
Sprinting out of the gates, Kenston won the most lopsided game of the match, 25-16, in large thanks to senior Amy Pilat’s nine-point service run. She also had a seven-point run in game four.
“Coach was telling me very specifically where to serve, and I just really focused on hitting it to that spot, and it worked great,” Pilat said of new head coach Steve Scherlacher’s instruction. “It was great on his part. He really planned that out in the district semis when he was scouting their team, and so we won that first game because of that.”
Also contributing to that game-one triumph were the huge blocks Smith and Coverdale were putting up to slow down Solon juggernaut Breana Jeter. When Jeter rotated out of the game, Pilat went on her 9-0 service run.
The match ensued like a rollercoaster, however, with Solon winning game two and Kenston winning game three.
It came down to who was serve receiving and passing the best, Kenston senior setter Lori Zagar said.
“Good ball control allowed us to take advantage of their weaknesses in their back row in game three,” she said. “Game three is just crucial in volleyball. Whoever wins usually wins the match.”
From seniors Taylor Curtis and Kosiorek on the outside to Newell, Smith and Coverdale, Kenston does not have a weak hitter on the court.
“It’s whosever’s swinging the best at that moment,” Zagar said about whom she decides to set. “It also depends on who’s on the other side of the net and who we have matched up blocking wise. If there’s a big outside and a small middle, then I’ll set the middle, simple as that.”
With the victory, Kenston advanced to play to in Wednesday’s sweet 16 regional semifinals match against unbeaten Toledo St. Ursula Academy (25-0), which is ranked first in the state among Division I teams, according to the coaches association.
The winner advances to play either Amherst Steele or Strongsville at 1 p.m. Saturday in the regional finals at Brecksville.
Kenston was not favored to win on Wednesday, as the Lady Bombers lost in the regular season to St. Ursula, 25-23, 29-27, 25-14, back in August.
However, upsets are why the game is played.