Since moving up to Division I in 2011, the Kenston volleyball team has bumped heads with Solon in the district final every season.
During last Thursday’s collision, the top-seeded Lady Bombers proved to be the bigger truck on the road to regionals as Kenston claimed its third straight championship in three sets, 25-19, 25-19, 25-23, on the Lady Comets’ home court.
In Kenston’s starting rotation for all three district titles, senior middle hitter Jen Smith said the emotions run higher and higher each year the Lady Bombers take on Solon.
“We come into this game with so much excitement,” she said. “We get pumped in the locker room. We scream. There’s just so much emotion going into our games with Solon. That’s why we came out with so much energy.”
During the first set, Kenston soared to a 12-6 advantage thanks to the attacking efforts of Smith and senior outside hitter Kayla Braun, who went on to tally four kills apiece in that frame.
Solon sophomore setter Julie Kruse, however, went on a six-point service run to knot the set, 12-12, with three aces, as well as a pair of soft placement kills by junior middle hitter Kaitlyn Glaser.
“Some of their strengths were some of our weaknesses, which were tips,” Kenston head coach Stephen Scherlacher said. “We knew we had to do a better job of eliminating that hole, and we did that.”
While Smith and Braun proved deadly for kills in the early going, Kenston junior setter Amanda Schaefer, who finished the night with 40 assists, went on to feed Braun over and over and over again in the second set.
Braun tallied six kills in that frame, coming on big approaches – the kind that scream, “I’m coming, and so try and stop me.”
“I just like to get a lot of momentum,” she said. “So I start way back just so I can go in fast and kill it. I was going down the line, I was going off the block, and it was working out for me. I just kept telling myself to keep hitting the ball, and then I would scream.”
Attack wise, Kenston was focused on hitting the ball away from Solon junior libero Dena Tekavec, coach Scherlacher said.
Playing more of a defensive role in that second set, Smith collected three points off blocks. She finished with seven such rejections overall.
Kenston 6-foot-4 junior Michala Jepson, meanwhile, contributed four of her nine kills in that second set, while junior libero Abby Singleton had a four-point service run to give the Lady Bombers a 14-8 advantage. It was Kenston’s longest service run of the match.
“We’ve been challenging Michala to be more aggressive when we’re out of system,” coach Scherlacher said. “And I thought she did a really good job of putting balls away for us when it wasn’t a perfect pass and set. She’s an unbelievable hitter when it’s a perfect pass and set, but today she got us three or four kills when we were out of system, which is big.”
In regards to Singleton, Scherlacher said she’s been having huge runs since the end of the regular season and through the district tournament.
“We’re able to score a lot of points with her serve, not only because her serve is tough, but she plays good defense,” he said. “And then we have Jen, Kayla and Carly Artino up front to mix it in, and we’re really good then. We have blocking and hitting.”
Kenston senior Rachael Brezovec, meanwhile, returned for her first full match after having suffered a concussion against Gilmour on Oct. 2. She led the Lady Bombers’ defensive effort with 12 digs, while Braun, younger sister Ashley Braun and Singleton all had 11 digs.
In the third set, Brezovec started as libero after Singleton took that role the first two frames.
“I think we just needed a different feel in the game, just to keep the momentum going, and we needed better communication,” Brezovec said. “It felt so good to finally get back to be able to play tonight. I missed it so much, and I was just so excited that I got to come back for the Solon game.”
Attacking by committee down the stretch, junior middle hitter Sydney Gorski had three of her seven kills in the final frame.
“I thought Sydney Gorski did a great job of making sure we were controlled,” Scherlacher said. “She scored on a tip late in the match when we noticed a hole. She was able to score on it immediately, which was great.”
Also in the final set, Solon senior Mia Bonsignore tallied eight of her 16 match kills from the outside, after hitting in the middle the previous two frames. The lineup change led to some confusion, however, costing the Lady Comets a rotation violation for a two-point swing in the middle of the set.
Kenston went on to close the match, 25-23.
“I don’t know if we would have been able to go into more games, because we used all of our energy in the first three games,” Smith said. “We knew we wanted to get it done quick, just so we could get it over with and we got the district title.”
The Lady Bombers will play Brunswick in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Brecksville.