Two of the most talented middle hitters in the region — Amherst’s Maria Concheck and Brunswick’s Gabbie Bulic — will face each other across the net at Midview High School on Tuesday evening at 6 o’clock in a district semifinal.
Amherst (15-8) reached the district tournament by defeating Elyria 25-17, 30-28, 25-22. Brunswick (11-12) got to the district semifinal with a 25-17, 22-25, 25-16, 25-16 victory over Avon.
Both teams rode the talents of their respective star middle hitters. Concheck had 13 kills, 13 blocks and seven block kills for the Comets.
Bulic set a school record for kills in a match with 32 and added five block kills for the Blue Devils.
Concheck, a 5-foot-11 senior, was especially strong in Game 3, getting three kills and one block kill for four of Amherst’s final five points. The Comets had to rally from 21-20 behind to pull out the third-game victory.
“This was a typical Amherst-Elyria match,” said Laurie Cogan, coach of defending district champion Amherst. “We both came out a little sloppy. Both teams settled in. We’re fortunate to move on, so we’re very pleased.”
The Comets blew a 16-11 lead in the second game, letting Elyria (7-17) rally to tie the score at 18. Amherst was ahead 24-22 after a hitting error and an ace from Ally Lewandowski, but the Pioneers tied things again on a kill by freshman Tyra Darden and an Amherst hitting mistake.
Elyria never had the lead, but managed to stay alive four more times before two kills by Erica Turner, who led the Comets with 14, finally ended the nail-biter.
“When it went back and forth and could have gone either way my kids showed a lot of heart,” Cogan said. “I’m pleased with how tough they were mentally. Basically, we made one more play than they did.”
One part of the Comets’ game that deserted them when Elyria fought back was serve receiving. Poor passing led to too few good hitting opportunities. The Pioneers got excellent passing to set up their trio strong hitters — Korey Middlebrooks, Alexis Middlebrooks and Darden.
“Our passing wasn’t so good,” Lewandowski said. “We lost focus for a little bit. But this is a team that doesn’t quit. We get one good pass and we’re all back up again.”
“Both teams were so hyper,” Lewandowski added about the tension in Game 2. “We were both way too hyper. When we calmed down we knew what we had to do.”
“Errors and discipline,” Elyria coach Jodie Johnson said when asked what tipped the scales in Amherst’s favor. “They controlled the errors. They made fewer errors and they were more disciplined. I don’t deny that my kids gave 100 percent. I’m happy with the way we fought back. It just came down to errors.”
Elyria scored four in succession to take a 20-19 lead in Game 3. A kill by Alexis Middlebrooks put the Pioneers ahead 21-20 before kills by Concheck and Morgan Dziak and a block kill by Concheck had the Comets ahead 23-21. A bad serve was followed by two more kills from Concheck to finish the match.
Lewandowski had a solid night with a match-high 17 digs and 19-of-19 serving. Riley Schenk had 31 assists and Vanessa Stacey added 12 digs for Amherst.
Darden, Alexis Middlebrooks and Korey Middlebrooks had 11 kills each for Elyria. Shelby Regiec went 88-of-88 setting with 34 assists. Darden had nine digs and Korey Middlebrooks had eight digs and two aces.
For Avon (11-11), there was simply no answer for Bulic, a 6-foot-4 junior.
“She’s going to get her kills,” Avon coach Jenn Larrick said. “We knew this would be a size mismatch. She plays in a conference (Northeast Ohio, Valley Division) that has girls as big as she is on most of the teams. We don’t have anyone like that in our conference (West Shore). We wanted to take advantage of when she was back serving.”
“I thought we improved a lot (against Bulic) by the end of the game,” outside hitter Brittanie Fowler said. “We tried, but things didn’t go our way. It was not like we weren’t trying. Everyone gave it their all tonight.”
Even when Bulic was in the back row or when she was on the bench, the Eagles had difficulty with Brunswick’s stifling defense.
“Their defense is amazing,” Larrick said. “They cover so much of the court and they get a spark out of everyone on defense as well.”
Brunswick led the entire way in Game 1. The Blue Devils opened an early lead in the second game before the Eagles took a 16-15 lead on a kill by Brianna Conroy. Avon scored six in a row to take an 18-15 lead.
The Devils came back to lead 19-18, but Avon scored three in a row and never trailed again. A kill from Fowler and an ace by Madi Matisak gave the Eagles their final two points.
The third and fourth games were all Brunswick. The Blue Devils led 19-8 before the Eagles went on a 7-2 run to cut the margin to 21-15, but could get no closer.
The Blue Devils were up 19-10. Again, Avon made a modest rally to trim the lead to 20-15. That was as near as the Eagles could get.
Natalie Michelich led Avon with 12 kills. Paige Decker added nine kills and Fowler and Liz Zollos had eight kills each. Folwer led the Eagles with 15 digs.
Matisak was 121-of-121 setting with 40 assists and served two aces. Conroy had three solo blocks for Avon.