On the verge of destruction, the Kenston girls volleyball team entered unfamiliar territory when the Lady Bombers faced a 2-1 game deficit in the best-of-five match Tuesday night in Chagrin Falls.
Sole ownership of their 10th consecutive Chagrin Valley Conference title was on the line, not to mention a 119-0 league record dating back to 2005.
The host Lady Tigers were coming from all directions with five spikers executing kills for victories in games two, 25-22, and three, 25-18, as well as eight aces overloading the service market.
“Set three, we lose, because we don’t get along,” Kenston second-year head coach Steve Scherlacher said. “That was more of a team thing than a system. But then four and five, we did what we needed to do. We got along on the court, and I think we performed very well.”
With only one returning player from last year’s starting rotation in senior middle Jen Smith, Kenston junior setter Amanda Schaefer has been spreading the love to four Lady Bombers who have been averaging more than two kills a set this season. But when a team has the hot hand, it’s all too common to feed that player over, and over, and over again.
Racking up five kills and a block point in the fourth game, Kenston junior middle hitter Sydney Gorski led the Lady Bombers to a 25-15 victory, and then she added another three kills and two block points during a 15-6 triumph in the fifth for the 3-2 match final.
“Our goal is to always attack an opponent’s weakness,” coach Scherlacher said. “And when we have a good matchup, we go with it. It’s whosever hot gets the ball. We’re not the type of team that relies on just one person. In a big moment, we’re probably going to set Jen Smith, but Sydney Gorski was hot today.”
Smith had the most varsity experience coming into this season, playing in a rotation with seven 2014 graduates last year – four of whom were Division I recruits.
With a turnover of such talent, the Lady Bombers’ CVC streak was subject to doubt, just like the 2012 team that had six sophomores starting.
“It definitely took a while, but, after the first couple of practices, we got it together, and we really came together as a team at the beginning of preseason,” Smith said. “But I think this was our most nerve-wracking game this season.”
The last time Kenston was pushed to a five-set match was in October of 2011, when the Lady Bomber defeated Chagrin Falls in similar fashion – a 15-6 decision in the fifth game.
While Gorski got the job done late, senior outside hitter Kayla Braun led her team to a 25-21 victory with five kills in the first set. She also had four kills in the fourth-set victory and two in the final game – both coming against a double-block defense on the opposite side of the net.
“It’s good. It’s really good to see those balls hit on the other side of the floor,” Braun said. “They played really good blockers, and I’m kind of short, so I have to make sure I can jump over it. I try to go line and avoid their blockers pretty much.”
Taking the lead role in Chagrin Falls’ third-set victory, senior Maddie Clegg tallied five kills and three service aces before the Lady Tigers went to an all-hands-on-deck approach with senior Megan McGinley, a blocking machine and Clemson recruit, senior Kendal Baker, senior Isabel Kosar and sophomore Danielle Currey in the third set.
Not calling for the ball on serve returns, Kenston displayed communications issues at times without its senior starting libero Rachel Brezovec, who was out from a concussion suffered during a 3-2 loss to Division III No. 2-ranked Gilmour last Thursday.
“Those issues happened because of her absence,” coach Scherlacher said. “What Rachel does is she keeps us calm on the court. When I need to communicate to the team, I have a conversation with Rachel during the game, and then Rachel will make sure the whole team knows what’s going on, and she keeps us calm. We don’t have issues, because she is such a positive kid.”
Kenston junior Michala Jepson, 6-foot-4, also made her presence known at the net with nine kills and two blocking points throughout the match, while junior defensive specialist Abby Singleton mopped up the garbage in the back row.
“This is actually kind of amazing,” Braun said. “This feels like the greatest game. It was a scary game. I’m just so glad we won. So now we beat Chagrin twice, yes.”
While Kenston claimed sole ownership of its 10th consecutive CVC championship, more important is finishing the steak at 120-0 at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, when the Lady Bombers travel to Perry for their last game of the regular season, Smith said.
“That game is definitely the most important game for us, because we want to get the 120,” she said. “We’ve been focusing on getting the 120 the whole season, and it’s our top goal. So we’re definitely going to be focused for Thursday.”