EATON TWP. — Two teams very familiar with one another advanced to the Division I volleyball district semifinal Wednesday night at Midview.
Third-seed Elyria (13-10) got past Avon Lake (9-13) in three very close, competitive games in the first match of the night — 27-25, 25-23, 25-21 — while Brunswick (8-16) upset second-seeded Olmsted Falls (14-10) in four games — 25-22, 25-16, 23-25, 25-22 — in the second. The two Northeast Ohio Conference rivals will meet for a third time Tuesday for the chance to get to the district final. Elyria won the two regular season matches.
In the first game, Elyria never led by more than one point until junior Tyra Darden knocked down an Emily Gonzalez set for the game winner and the Pioneers pretty much used the same method to get Game 2 in coming from a 21-16 deficit. A service ace by Haley Paonessa followed by three straight Alexis Middlebrooks kills finished off the Shoregals.
In Game 3, Elyria again came from a 17-14 deficit to win behind three more Paonessa aces and a superb effort by Middlebrooks.
“Volleyball is such a shift of momentum,” Elyria coach Jodie Johnson said. “We got a few runs. We fell behind a little bit and it was nice that we were able to make our runs at pivotal points.”
Middlebrooks took care of business at the net with 17 kills and three block kills. Darden and Danya Corlew each had 10 kills, while Gonzalez contributed 43 setting assists. Darden and Paonessa led the defensive effort with 27 and 13 digs, respectively.
“We didn’t get too many runs but we kept it close,” Middlebrooks said. “We stayed one step ahead. That helped a lot.”
“I thought my team fought really hard no matter what the score,” Avon Lake coach Dan Berkheimer said. “We had some serve-receive trouble. That was really the biggest issue.”
Senior Katie Mihalik kept the Shoregals in each game with some powerful swings and great defense. She finished her outstanding career with 16 kills and nine digs. Lauren Bakatis also had nine digs. Alaina Sliwinski had 31 assists.
Defense was Brunswick’s forte in derailing Falls. Time and time again, the Blue Devils managed to keep the ball alive at the net.
“They definitely can be scrappy,” Brunswick coach Mande Pyzik said. “We’ve never had a problem with them picking up balls on defense. It’s normally what happens after they pick it up but (Wednesday) they were very solid on blocking and hitting. That made the difference for us.”
Brunswick jumped in front in and kept the pressure on in the first two games. Only in Game 3 did Olmsted Falls take charge, but the Blue Devils bounced right back to win Game 4.
In Game 1, Brunswick built a 19-12 lead with sophomore Julia Holden getting the clinching kill. The Blue Devils repeated the effort in Game 2, extending an early lead to 22-14 at one point. Falls made two hitting errors and sophomore Olivia Krivanek had a key kill to finish the game.
Falls took Game 3 by getting the lead and not giving it back. Lexi Lombardo got the winning point but Brunswick took the momentum right back in Game 4 with a 10-6 lead it never relinquished. Sophomore Gina Yurik got the 24th point and senior Megan Anderson the finale. Another sophomore, Sam Cerny also played very well for the Blue Devils and sophomore libero Jordan Verbiak was the key to the effort on defense.
“Defense — we were all over the place,” she said. “It was teamwork. Everyone has to participate to play defense. Everyone did a really good job playing their part.”
Falls’ veteran coach Dawn Moses admitted it was a tough day for the Bulldogs. The school was shut down earlier in the day due to a false bomb threat but she wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“Brunswick played lights-out defense,” she said. “It’s hard when you can’t find the floor because they’re picking everything up.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or email@example.com.