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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

St. Ursula cruises to sixth state volleyball berth

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

NORWALK - No. 1 versus No. 2 turned out to be no contest yesterday as top-ranked defending Division I state volleyball champion St. Ursula Academy advanced to its sixth straight state tournament by pounding Elyria 25-15, 25-13, 25-18 in a tidy 63 minutes in the regional final at Norwalk High School.

For the Arrows (27-0), it was a near carbon copy of last year's regional championship here. Last Nov. 6 they eliminated Elyria 25-18, 25-18, 25-23.

SUA also topped the Pioneers in the regional semifinals in 2001 and '02.

This time, the Arrows used a balanced attack to earn trip No. 6 to Dayton, where will play Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in a state semifinal Thursday at the Nutter Center, 30 minutes after the end of the first D-I state semifinal match which starts at 6 p.m.

"The first one [in 2000] was obviously a pretty big high," Arrows coach John Buck said of state berth No. 6, "But to continue to do it year after year is hard, especially when everybody's gunning for you. This is a great accomplishment for the kids."

Although the quick match eliminated any huge statistical output, SUA managed three players in double-figure kills, with two others not far behind.

Senior hitter Allison Florian, who will be making her fourth trip to state, led with 12 kills.

"We tried to spread out their middles [blockers] because they were big," Florian said. "This was for [getting to] the state tournament right here, and we knew it meant a lot, so we had to play our game."

Junior Ashley Heyman, who pounded down four quick sets, and sophomore Alliya Drzewiecki, who produced the most powerful attacks in the match, had 10 kills apiece.

"They had some large blockers, so we had to spread it out a little bit and kept them guessing," Heyman said. "We didn't want to give away where we were setting.

"Last year [at state] was really fun, and I'm looking forward to going again."

"That's a big factor in our game, that they don't know who the ball's going to," Drzewiecki said. "We have six hitters who can place the ball wherever they need to. I think that definitely contributes to confusing the defense."

The master distributor, as usual, was senior setter Emily Florian (Allison's twin), who assisted on most of the attacks.

"We had to mix it up a little bit, so I had to get my middles involved, too," said Emily Florian of spreading the wealth. "Everyone helped out, so it was a lot of fun.

"We came in really pumped. We knew they were a good team, [ranked] No. 2 in the state, so we played as tough as we could."

For good measure, junior Kelly Thomas added eight kills and senior Katelyn Schissler six for the Arrows, who won their Division-I-record 56th consecutive match.

Elyria (24-3) last led 8-7 in Game 1, before the Arrows gained a sideout, then reeled off six more unanswered points on the serve of sophomore Shannon Kanary. That was part of a dominant 18-7 closing surge for SUA.

"We're kind of a slow starting team but, once our adrenaline and our momentum pick up, there's no stopping us," Drzewiecki said. "We wanted to go to states again, and we want to win it, so nothing was going to get in our way."

The Pioneers' only leads in the next two games were 1-0, as St. Ursula, settling into a confident rhythm, kept passing, setting and firing away at will.

The Arrows ended Game 2 with a 15-6 surge, and iced the match with 13-8 stretch in the final game.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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