ELYRIA — The pride that Elyria coach Jodie Johnson has for Pioneers volleyball is unquestioned. She was a leader in her playing days on very good Elyria High teams, and has guided the Elyria program successfully since taking over as head coach.
So it would be a huge understatement to say that Johnson was a little unhappy with how her Pioneers played Tuesday night. And rest assured, her team got the message loud and clear.
Strongsville jumped all over Elyria from the first point of Game 1, and never looked back, claiming a 25-14, 25-20, 25-17 win in Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division play. Strongsville, the 13th-ranked team in Division I in the first state coaches association poll, improved to 10-2 and 3-1 in the NOC. Elyria fell to 6-7 and 1-3.
“I was expecting Strongsville to come out and play hard because they are a talented group, and I wanted my girls to go out and compete, but, honestly, we didn’t do that tonight,” Johnson said. “When we had opportunities to better the ball, we didn’t protect it, we just played it sloppy. And one sloppy play just results in another sloppy play. And that’s not acceptable to me.
“I’m disappointed because I don’t think my girls gave me what they can give me. They’re happy with losing points, and that’s a huge problem.”
Elyria battled to a 6-all tie in Game 1, and was within a 16-15 margin midway through the set only to watch the Mustangs go on a 9-3 spurt to take the opening game.
The Pioneers enjoyed their only lead of the night in Game 2 — 4-3 — thanks in part to a pair of aces from sophomore Tyra Darden. But Strongsville would not let Elyria get any further ahead, pushing a 17-15 lead out to 20-15 before coasting to a 2-0 lead in the match.
Mustangs coach Erick Sopata said that his team followed their script to perfection.
“Part of our game plan is to serve tough and get the other team out of their system, and I thought we were able to do that,” he said. “We played some solid defense and really made some scrappy plays. We had girls playing full out, diving, sprinting, and making some great plays. Our defensive effort tonight was just outstanding.
“We talk about how to control a match in our practices. Right from the start, we want to gain control. We want to be able to be aggressive whether we are serving or serve receiving, and I felt that from the start of the match tonight we were able to relax and stay in control.”
After Darden collected a pair of kills to open up Game 3, the Mustangs went back to work. Behind the hitting of junior Kelsey Bittinger, who collected 15 kills on the night, Strongsville never allowed the Pioneers to get any closer than a couple of points in the final game.
Backing Bittinger for the Mustangs was junior Amanda Riley with four aces, while sophomore Rachael Dohar added 25 digs and junior Andrea Mott collected 26 assists.
Leading Elyria was Darden with eight kills and three aces, while senior Haley Looney posted 15 assists. Haley Paonessa and Emily Mandoke chipped in 14 and 11 digs, respectively.
Johnson knows that her team needs to make a quick turnaround before traveling to Solon on Thursday.
“Our conference doesn’t allow us to play that way,” she said. “We are in a very competitive conference, with Strongsville and North Royalton being state ranked. You just can’t come in to this and be satisfied with sloppy play, or be satisfied with balls that are hitting the floor uncontested. That, to me, is unacceptable … completely unacceptable.”
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.