The Shoregals, coming in with a 25-2 record and having won the Southwestern Conference championship, could have easily settled for getting to the district finals.
Turns out they weren’t ready to quit playing.
Avon Lake reeled off three consecutive victories to wrest the district crown away from the rival Comets and advance to the regionals at Norwalk High School with a dramatic 24-26, 16-25, 25-12, 25-18, 15-8 victory Thursday night at Midview High School.
More photos below.
The Shoregals continue their dream season Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the regional semifinals against the winner of the Perrysburg district. Toledo St. Ursula Academy, the top-ranked team in the state, will meet Toledo Central Catholic on Saturday at 3 p.m. in that championship game to determine who Avon Lake’s next opponent will be.
“I really thought that, even though we lost Game 2, we got some momentum going toward the end,” Avon Lake coach Dan Berkheimer said. “I told the girls that we needed to keep that momentum going. Then I decided to flip the lineup, and I got some different matchups going.
“I really felt that that helped the girls because (sophomore Katie) Mihalik was getting some good swings, but (Amherst’s) Maria Concheck is an excellent blocker, and we wanted to get her away from that block. Once we did that, our team started rolling.”
Avon Lake turned the tides with a decisive third game, paced by the play of Christine Bohan, Isabelle Wagner and Mihalik.
The Shoregals reeled off the first four points on the way to a15-5 lead. Mihalik served the last five points of that opening run, and the Comets (15-8) could get no closer than nine the rest of the game.
“This was a big win for us,” said Mihalik, who had a team-best 15 kills and 7½ blocks. “We tried not to hang our heads when we came to our bench (down 2-0). Everyone was pumping each other up, and we knew we had each other’s back. We were ready to go out and win the next three.
“Winning that third game in the way that we did really helped a lot. I think the momentum switched to us at that point after Amherst had it with the first two games.”
Berkheimer gave his sophomore a lot of credit.
“The thing about Katie Mihalik is she could have easily hung her head after Game 2 after being blocked again and again,” he said. “She could have packed it up and went home. But she didn’t at all. She really rose to the occasion and she was one of our go-to girls down the stretch.”
An Erica Turner kill cut Avon Lake’s lead in the fourth game to 20-16. However, the Shoregals outscored the Comets 5-2 to even everything up and force a decisive Game 5.
“We came in expecting to win, as crazy as that may seem to some, but if you don’t expect to win, why come?” Amherst coach Laurie Cogan said. “I thought my kids played very hard tonight. In the end, we made some mistakes that just cost us, and when you’re in a game of this magnitude playing a team with that much talent, some of the mistakes are hard to overcome.”
It was Amherst that opened the fifth game with a 3-0 lead. However, Avon Lake took control of the game from there with a 10-2 run.
Junior setter Whitney Craigo, who had a school-record 53 assists, going 117-for-119 setting, while adding three aces, five blocks and five kills, took over that fifth game. Three of her blocks occurred during the game, and she served four consecutive points — including two aces — to cap off the big run.
“I can’t even explain how this feels right now,” Craigo said. “I’m so happy and I’m feeling so many different emotions going through me. Everybody just played so good today. We came out really tight, but we stayed together like we always do and we were able to come through in the end.”
Wagner had 13 kills, 13 digs and four aces, libero Heather Smith set a school record with 33 digs and added 29 serve receptions, Bohan added 10 kills and Lauren Bakaitis added seven kills.
For the Comets, Concheck was 22-for-25 hitting with 12 kills, 10 blocks and an ace, while Ally Lewandowski added 26 digs and went 18-for-18 serving. Riley Schenk was 121-for-123 setting with 36 assists and seven digs, and Turner was 45-for-47 hitting with 16 kills, Morgan Dziak was 30-for-33 hitting with 11 kills while Vanessa Stacey had 12 digs and three aces.