NORWALK One City League team will play for a Division I regional volleyball title, and another less heralded one just missed out last night at Norwalk High School.
Top-ranked St. Ursula Academy (26-0) got a tough battle from eighth-ranked Rocky River Magnificat (21-5), but shored up its defense well enough to take a 23-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 victory.
The defending state champion Arrows thus extended the longest winning streak in Ohio Division I history to 55 matches, the state s third-longest string overall.
In the second semifinal, the unranked Clay Eagles (17-7) extended second-ranked Elyria to the limit before falling in five games, 25-23, 21-25, 25-17, 17-25, 15-13.
SUA will have a chance to advance to its sixth straight state tournament when it meets Elyria (24-2) here for the regional crown on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Arrows played without lineup regular Hailey Marvin, a junior outside hitter/defensive specialist, who suffered a concussion in last Saturday s five-game district final win over Central Catholic.
Hailey s been playing some pretty good defense back there for us, SUA coach John Buck said of missing Marvin. She had clearance from her doctor to play but, she said she just wasn t feeling quite right, so we weren t going to take any chances. That was at gametime.
It took a while for the Arrows to adjust to Marvin s absence, but they seemed to have things in hand until late in Game 1.
St. Ursula led almost all the way through Game 1 until Magnificat, trailing 23-19, rallied for the game s last six points for a 25-23 win.
The Arrows trailed for most of the first half of Games 2 and 3 before taking control down the stretch with an increased emphasis on the defensive side, thanks in large part to the digging of seniors Tighe Westrick and Allison Florian. The third game was tied at 14-14 before SUA closed with an 11-5 run.
They were a great offensive team, so we had to just expect every ball to come hard to us, Westrick said. We do whatever we can to stop them, even if they re getting more kills than us. We re going to dig those balls up and push it over however we can. Those blocks are important. I think it gets them down, and it definitely gets us going.
St. Ursula then jumped to a quick 4-0 lead in Game 4 before watching the Blue Streaks chip away and pull ahead 11-9 midway.
The Arrows responded with a 6-0 run on the serve of sophomore Shannon Kanary, part of a closing 16-5 run.
We were really focused on getting our blockers up sooner, Buck said. They were real flat and quick on the outside, and we were just too late getting there. By games 3 and 4 we were finally able to get that block up there and started to get some hands on balls.
Key in the deciding game was the Arrows block scheme, including junior Kelly Thomas, who had two solo block points plus assists on two others.
Blocking s very important, Thomas said. It helps our defense out a lot. It slows the ball down and you can get a lot of kills off of that.
Junior Ashley Heyman led SUA in kills with 13, Allison Florian had 11, and Thomas and sophomore Alliya Drzewiecki added nine apiece.
In the second match, Clay struggled out of the gate in Game 1, falling behind 4-0 and then 8-2 before finding some rhythm. The Eagles behind the attacks of senior Charley McQueary, the sets of Kristen Gyori and the all-around superb play of senior team leader Ashley Rucki regrouped in time to make that game interesting.
They actually pulled ahead 17-16, and got within 24-23 before the Pioneers Kelly Ruth ended the game on a kill.
We played hard but we made too many mistakes, Clay coach Brad Morrison said. You can t do that against the No. 2 team in the state.
We had em on the ropes, but we just hit too many free balls over.
When you re playing against kids 6-3 and 6-4, you can t just hand em the ball.
But, our kids played hard. That s the kind of volleyball I like, and we were the underdog anyway. We took em to the limit.
Clay, gaining some momentum, took Game 2 grabbing a quick 6-1 lead and never trailing.
The Eagles were in control throughout most of Game 4, forcing a deciding fifth game.
Clay pulled even three time in Game 5, but could never take the lead.
McQueary led with 19 kills and Rucki added 15.
We just tried to dig everything, Morrison said of offsetting Elyria s much taller lineup. We can t block because we re too small, so we just tried to figure out their tendencies and position ourselves. We dug their hard stuff and their easy stuff kind of confused us a little bit.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.