AVON LAKE — To be the champ, you have to beat the champ.
Those were the words that eighth-ranked Amherst volleyball coach Laurie Cogan gave her team before taking the court against two-time defending Southwestern Conference champion Avon Lake.
Amherst played like a champion with a thrilling 25-14, 24-26, 25-16, 23-25, 15-9 win.
The Comets’ (16-3, 10-0 SWC) victory, coupled with a loss Tuesday night by Olmsted Falls, gives them at least a tie for the conference title. Amherst will have a chance to win it outright Thursday when they host the Bulldogs.
“That was our toughest game this year and it’s the first time that we have had to play five games,” said senior setter Riley Schenk who finished with 45 assists and 11 kills. “It was a little bit of a scare as the competition gets better towards the end
of the season.”
The night started innocently enough as the Comets rolled off a 25-14 win in Game 1.
What became evident was the Shoregals were going to have to adjust to Schenk tipping out of sets, as she picked up four kills.
Avon Lake (7-10, 5-5) also had to slow down Mallory Sliman (four kills), Alayna Johnson (four) and Ashley Makruski (two) as they pounded the Shoregals defense in the opening win.
Makruski and Sliman kept it up all evening with 22 and 19 kills, respectively.
It looked like Avon Lake was going to put the Comets back on their heels, running out to a 21-11 lead as senior Katie Mihalik got untracked with eight of her 28 kills in the game.
Amherst forced the game past regulation as Hannah Schwinn rolled off seven straight points with several aces and Brianne McHugh served for four points and a 24-23 lead.
The defending champs showed a ton of guts as Lauren Bakaitis served an ace for the tie and Mihalik closed out the win with a pair of kills.
“Amherst is such a great team and every one of the girls gave everything they had tonight,” Mihalik said. “We may not have come out on top tonight, but we gave it everything we had.”
In each of the next two games, the Shoregals gave themselves a chance to knock off the Comets.
In Game 3, Avon Lake was down 16-15 but the Comets’ Carly Richards picked up seven straight points to pull away for a 25-16 win on a pair of kills and a block-kill by Makruski, a pair of tip-kills by Schenk and a pair of Shoregals hitting errors.
“Even though we lost that second game, it showed us what we needed to do to bounce back and win that third game,” said Makruski. “We saw that we could easily lose this and we got things turned around.”
Avon Lake forced a fifth game going toe-to-toe with the Comets in the fourth game as Katie Coughlin picked up four kills and Mihalik added six more. Mihalik also combined with Alaina Sliwinski on a block to clinch the win.
“We looked pretty good at times and we looked pretty young at times,” said Cogan. “We found a way to hang on through the first four games to give ourselves a chance to win. This was really a great match.”
The Comets jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fifth game with Madison Cruzado at the service line and Amherst never lost the lead.
“We wanted to be the team that ended (Avon Lake’s) championship run,” senior Mallory Sliman said. “They had our number the last couple of years and now we want to go out there and be perfect in the conference this year.
“This is my last chance to take down a perfect conference season. We still have Olmsted Falls and Brecksville, so it’s going to be quite a challenge for us to get it done.”
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amherst 25-24-25-23-15, Avon Lake 14-26-16-25-9
HITTING: (AM) Ashley Makruski 22 kills, Mallory Sliman 19 kills, Riley Schenk 11 kills. (AL) Katie Mihalik 28 kills, Lauren Bakaitis 10 kills.
SETTING: (AM) Schenk 45 assists. (AL) Alaina Sliwinski 52 assists.
SERVING: (AM) Hannah Schwinn 6 aces. (AL) Bakaitis 2 aces.
DIGS: (AM) Madison Cruzado 35. (AL) Bakaitis 27