Make that the Southwestern Conference champion Avon Lake Shoregals.
Behind what coach Dan Berkheimer called a “total team effort,” Avon Lake was able to shake off a slow start and eventually cruise to a 25-23, 25-10, 25-12 win over the host and defending champion Bulldogs.
Avon Lake, still perfect after 12 SWC matches and 16 overall, claimed its first title since 1995.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Berkheimer said of his players. “A lot of hard work goes into this, not just what you see on the court, but back home in the gym and all year long. Tonight it was a total team effort, and now we get to see the end product.”
After sputtering through Game 1, in which they could put little breathing room between themselves and Olmsted Falls (9-10, 8-4), the Shoregals took control of the match in Game 2 behind the serving of junior Isabelle Wagner and seniors Heather Smith and Danielle Donelan.
Turning an 8-4 advantage into a 22-10, lead, the three jump-started the Avon Lake offense and, in the process, took the Bulldogs right out of the match for the remainder of the night.
“We started off a little shaky, but we do that all the time,” Berkheimer said. “In Games 2 and 3, that was more like the team that I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks.
“Our serving was really tough tonight. We’ve been working on that a little more and I think it showed. And Whitney (Craigo) did a great job setting. I couldn’t tell you who led us in attacks tonight because she did such a great job getting everyone involved.”
Craigo collected 22 assists on 54-of-54 setting. Wagner led the hitters with five kills and Christine Bohan added five blocks. Smith chipped in with 13 digs while going 19-of-19 in serve reception.
“We just refocused after the first game and went back to playing our game. That was the big difference,” Donelan said. “It feels great to win the conference championship, and to do it with such a great group of girls makes it more special.”
Smith, who joined the Avon Lake squad this season after transferring from Christian Community School, knew just how her Shoregals teammates turned the match around.
“We came together more in the last two games and did a lot more communicating,” she said. “Their (Olmsted Falls) passing fell apart a little, and we took advantage of it. Good things happen when we play our game and we play together.”
Good things continued to happen for Avon Lake in Game 3 as the Shoregals ran off to a 15-2 start before Olmsted Falls called a timeout to slow the momentum. Bulldogs seniors Kayla Petro and Kelsey Snider did all they could to keep their team in the game, combining for four kills, but it was too little, too late for the defending champions.
“We came in knowing that we were three games up with three games left, and all of them on the road,” Berkheimer said. “I said to the girls, ‘Why not win it here tonight’. It’s been a long time since we’ve won the conference championship, but I couldn’t be any prouder of a team than I am of this one. They really deserve it.”
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.