September 2, 2014

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Regional volleyball: Amherst finds reason to shout, rallies to make finals

NORWALK — It might depend on what your definition of “yell” is.
“No, she didn’t yell at us,” said Amherst senior Courtney Jarvis, talking about the behavior of her coach, Laurie Cogan, in the late going of Game 4 of the Comets’ Division I regional volleyball semifinal Wednesday at Norwalk High School.
If Cogan didn’t raise her voice to her team she let them know what she expected of them in language unsparing in its directness.
“I said we didn’t come here to be embarrassed,” Cogan said. “I told them we aren’t losing this game 25-14, now get out there and fight.”
“She did say that,” Jarvis admitted.
And the Comets listened.
Amherst, which had avoided a three-game sweep by dominating the third game against Notre Dame Academy, found itself trailing 21-14 when Cogan called a timeout. Not only did the Comets not lose 25-14, they won Game 4 and completed the match by winning the last game to advance to the regional championship match for the first time since 1991.
Amherst, ranked ninth in Ohio, lost the first two games, 26-24, 25-15, before sweeping the final three 25-20, 27-25, 15-11. The Comets (24-2) will face No. 4 Magnificat on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Norwalk High School with a trip to the state tournament on the line. Magnificat defeated No. 12 Bowling Green on Wednesday.
Notre Dame, No. 8 in the state, finished its season 22-4.
The Comets were down for the count twice Wednesday — after losing huge in Game 2 to stare elimination in eye, and when facing a seven-point deficit in the fourth game. Cogan had some choice words after the second game as well.
“We were horrible in the second game, but I told them we came here with a dream and there was no way anybody in the state of Ohio can beat us in three (games),” Cogan said. “Now way we would go down 1-2-3. I said they were going to win the third game.
“The adrenaline was working,” Cogan added. “They felt unstoppable.”
Jarvis was especially unstoppable. The All-Ohio outside hitter ended with 31 kills, but it was the five she had in the closing game — a game in which Amherst never trailed — that kept the Comets’ season alive.
“Courtney decided we were not going to be denied,” Cogan said. “She strapped this team to her back and said, ‘Hang on, follow me.’”
“In the fourth game we were like, ‘This could be it … this could be it,’” Jarvis said. “That’s when we picked it up. We played lights-out defense and our hitting improved.”
Amherst’s Deme Morales, a freshman, followed Jarvis in the hitting department with 24 kills. Morales had 19 of her kills in the first three games, while Jarvis had 13 over the final two.
I said, ‘Let’s get a lead,’” Jarvis said about Game 5. “When we get a lead we play relaxed and we do better.”
“We broke a lot of new ground in a lot of ways (this season),” Cogan said. “They’re special. They did everything I asked of them. They stayed with the game plan.”
Amherst overcame the hitting of five outstanding Irish frontline players, all of whom exceeded the Comets’ tallest player (5-9) by at least an inch. Jessie Batanian had 20 kills, Paige Roback added 15, Amanda Fioritto had 10 and Elisa Dunn finished with seven. Setter Jordan Goad (5-10) had eight kills.
Five consecutive points gave NDA a 23-19 lead in the opening game. Amherst answered with four straight of its own to tie it at 23, the last two points on Morales kills. Another Morales kill made it a 24-24 game before kills by Batanian and Goad ended it.
Amherst was never in Game 2, as the Irish served seven aces. NDA served aces on four of its first nine points.
It was the Comets’ turn to dominate in Game 3. Amherst led 19-10 before NDA staged a mini-rally and got as close as 22-20. But two Irish errors and a block kill by Bridget Beury gave the Comets the victory.
A kill by Jarvis brought Amherst back to within 23-21 in Game 4. Two straight hitting errors on Notre Dame tied the score before Batanian stopped Amherst’s run.
Jarvis answered with a kill and Roback gave the Irish a 25-24 lead with a kill. That was it for the Toledo team. Jarvis came up with her eighth kill of the game, then watched her serve be misjudged by Notre Dame to give Amherst a 26-25 lead. Brittany Walter got the final kill and Amherst had evened the match at 2.
The Comets jumped to leads of 5-2 and 8-4 before Notre Dame closed to 9-8. But four straight points from Amherst — on a Morales kill, a Beury block kill and two hitting errors by the Irish, put the Comets in charge at 13-8. Jarvis’ final kill of the night ended the match, which lasted more than two hours.
Jarvis had 19 digs to go with her kills. Ashley Aponte and Olivia Sliman also hit double figures for digs with 15 and 11, respectively. Lauren Percival had 55 assists and Brittany Walter had four block kills.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.

The play of the match

NORWALK — Brittany Walter had just one kill in Wednesday’s Division I regional semifinal, but what a kill it was.
It was Walter’s winning point in Game 4 that probably did more to lift Amherst’s confidence going into the deciding game of the evening — a confidence that carried the Comets to victory over Notre Dame and to a spot in Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship match against Magnificat.
The Comets had dropped the first two games before staying alive with a win in Game 3. The next game wasn’t going well until Amherst scored 10 of the next 13 points to tie the score at 24.
With Amherst holding a 26-25 lead the teams found themselves locked in a defensive struggle for the point that would either allow Notre Dame a shot at winning the match in four games or forcing it into a fifth and deciding game.
That was when Walter got her hands on the ball, sent it over the net and watched it fall just to the good side of the right sideline as teammates rushed to give her a few hugs.
“It felt awesome,” said Walter, a 5-foot-9 senior known more for her blocking than hitting. “It sure changed the momentum.”
It did. Amherst dominated the early going of
Game 5 and held on for a 15-11 victory and another shot at Magnificat (22-4), a team that beat the Comets in the first match of the season.
But did Walter know she had scored the biggest point of the match?
“No,” she said. “I thought it might go out. I just saw the ball and I had to get it. I had to do something. I was shocked when I saw it land.”
— Steve Byrne