NORWALK — The Shoregals didn’t look like a bunch of girls just trying to get their feet wet. Avon Lake dived into unfamiliar waters head first.
“We came out really excited,” setter Whitney Craigo said. “All day at school we were excited to play. We came out hard. We weren’t intimidated. We weren’t scared.”
“We came out ready,” outside hitter Isabelle Wagner added. “We never let down. We stuck together. We didn’t just hand them the match.”
All those positive vibrations simply weren’t enough. Avon Lake lost to top-ranked Toledo St. Ursula Academy, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 in a Division I regional semifinal Wednesday night, ending their best season ever 23-3.
Avon Lake, ranked No. 11 in Ohio, played as well as could be expected, especially when considering it had been a long time since the Shoregals had visited a regional tournament and considering the fact they were facing an unbeaten No. 1 team. The errors were kept to a minimum (Avon Lake had 14 of them to 13 for SUA). There were six bad serves (four in Game 2).
“There were times when we looked like the Avon Lake of back home,” Coach Dan Berkheimer said. “We got some good blocks against their tough hitters and we were able to get some good hits over their blocks.”
But St. Ursula (26-0) proved it wasn’t given a No. 1 ranking based on good looks.
“St. Ursula is a well-oiled machine,” Berkheimer said. “They have great attackers, great setters. They were just so fast attacking us. There are no weaknesses on that team.”
Probably the most glaring statistical difference between the team was serving. The Arrows served 12 aces and had a mere three bad ones. The low, fast serves kept Avon Lake on its heels throughout the match.
“In our conference we’ll see maybe two people on one team who can serve like that — not six,” Berkheimer said. “The velocity of their serves threw us off balance. What a great serving team.”
The Shoregals served just one ace in the match. That came in Game 3, with Katie Mihalik behind the line, and made the score 22-17.
Heather Smith saw the bulk of the action in the back row for Avon Lake. The Shoregals’ senior libero had 27 serve receptions and 14 digs, both team highs.
“We hadn’t seen tough serves like that this year,” Craigo said. “Our defense started to adjust and get me some good passes. That was all we can ask for.”
Craigo was 66-of-66 setting with 23 assists. Wagner and Christine Bohan paced the Shoregals with seven kills each. Mihalik added six kills and Lauren Bakaitis had four.
Avon Lake never led in Game 1 or Game 2. The Shoregals spotted St. Ursula the first three points of the first game before a kill by Mihalik got them on the board.
A 6-1 run by Avon Lake cut the margin to 10-9, but the Arrows answered with seven straight points, including three aces by Madison Strall, St. Ursula had its biggest lead of the opening game at 23-13. A dink kill by Katie Felix, her one kill of the match, ended it at 25-18.
The Shoregals fell behind 10-3 in the second game before trimming the difference to 13-9. St. Ursula then went on a string of five straight points to finish Avon Lake’s comeback.
The Shoregals took their first lead of the match at 2-1 in Game 3. The lead increased to 7-4 but St. Ursula scored six unanswered points to take the lead for good. Avon Lake came as close as 11-10 before a 7-2 run by the Arrows gave them command.
Maddie Burnham, St. Ursula’s 6-foot-1 junior middle hitter, led the Arrows with 12 kills. Cassidy Croci added nine kills and Katie McKernan had six. Lauren Graves, a 5-11 freshman, had five kills and six block kills. Strall served five aces and Felix served three.
Blocking was a bright spot for the Shoregals. Craigo had four block kills, Bohan added three and Mihalik had two.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.