ELYRIA — It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, but in the end, Elyria will take it.
Behind the net play of 6-foot-1 junior Alexis Middlebrooks, who led both teams with 11 kills and added four solo blocks, the Pioneers proved to be too much for Medina in a 25-13, 25-18, 25-23 win in a Northeast Ohio Conference opener.
“I’m very pleased with their development, because it is a work in progress,” Elyria coach Jodie Johnson said. “With our front line, I think they’re going after it and they’re allowing themselves to be available. They’re holding blocks. They’re double-blocking a lot of hits from the other side. So I’m actually pretty pleased with the progress of my middles and my outsides.”
The Pioneers improved to 4-3 (1-0 NOC), while the Bees fell to 1-9 (0-1).
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Elyria’s quest for a clean sweep was met with some resistance from Medina, which battled the Pioneers through a close third game that the Pioneers didn’t control until they scored the match-clinching point on a sideout kill from junior Danya Corlew.
“I think I would have liked them to play with a little more intensity, with a little more urgency,” Johnson said. “But when it came down to it, they protected the ball a little bit better than the first set. I just wanted them to go out, go after it, and we can do a better job of controlling the ball.”
Corlew had seven kills, while senior Emily Mandoke added 10 kills to go along with Middlebrooks’ stellar game. Kayla Young, another senior, had a team-best seven solo blocks and two block assists, while Tyra Darden added seven kills, 13 digs and a team-best five aces.
Middlebrooks was quick to give credit to her fellow hitters, along with senior setter Haley Looney, who was 71-of-71 with 34 assists.
“I think everything just came together,” Middlebrooks said. “Our passing was great. Haley Looney did a great job of finding all of our hitters, especially our middles. And our job was to put it away, and for the most part, we did that.
“We come into the gym every day and practice as a team and we play every day as a team. I’m not going to say anything about me. I think we all did a great job, and I respect that. I’m very proud of my team, and I just want to continue to win, especially in this conference.”
Megan Schaefer added a team-high 14 digs for the Pioneers.
Elyria jumped out to a 21-9 lead and cruised in the first game. In the second, the Pioneers opened an 11-3 lead. Medina was able to cut that lead to 17-14, but the Pioneers put it away with an 8-4 flourish, paced by two aces and four points from Darden, a big block from Mandoke to take a 24-15 lead, and a sideout kill from Young.
“I think, in our last few matches, we had a tendency to start out a little slow,” Middlebrooks said. “Today, we just wanted set the tone early and jump out to an early lead and go from there.”
For Medina, Ksenia Klue had nine kills, while Jessie Sency had six kills. Kelly Kaletta was 37-of-37 setting with 14 assists, while Erika Grumbach had eight digs.
The Bees were able to make things interesting thanks to their serving. They had 11 aces — all in the second and third games — led by Tess Fullerton’s three straight. Those aces gave Medina a 17-16 lead in the third game and the Bees actually led 22-20 before Elyria reeled off four consecutive points to take control.
“Our serving is what kept us in the game,” Medina coach Jason Schellenberger said. “We had quite a few aces in that last game, and even through the first and second game, our serves were well. We just got to get our passing down so we can run our offense.
“Our blocking was off tonight. Usually we’re able to set that block, but it just wasn’t there tonight. We’ll work on that.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.