December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Division I district volleyball: Elyria sweeps Brunswick, makes it back to district final for first time since 2009

Elyria High School's Alexis Middlebrooks attempts to push the ball over the net toward Brunswick High School's Sam Cerny, left, and Megan Anderson on Tuesday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Elyria High School’s Alexis Middlebrooks attempts to push the ball over the net toward Brunswick High School’s Sam Cerny, left, and Megan Anderson on Tuesday. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

EATON TWP. — It’ll be just like the “old” days at the Division I district volleyball final at Midview.

Elyria High, which has not been in the finals since 2009 and has not won a district title since 2006, defeated Brunswick 25-21, 25-11, 25-5 Tuesday to set up a finals meeting with top-seeded Amherst.

The Pioneers and Comets dominated the tournament in the 1990s and 2000s.

Elyria and Amherst meet Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with a spot in the regional on the line.

“As a player, I want (my team) to feel what I felt,” said Elyria coach and former Pioneers star Jodie Johnson. “I want them to enjoy success. We haven’t had that opportunity in a couple years. We haven’t gotten out of the districts since I’ve been the coach. I know they’re excited. We’re going to take it one set at a time, one game at a time and keep our focus. Whatever happens, happens.”

Elyria (14-10) jumped in front early Tuesday and held off Brunswick in Game 1 before taking charge and winning rather easily in Games 2 and 3.

The Pioneers jumped to an 8-2 lead in the first game and kept the Blue Devils at least two points behind the rest of the game.

“All year I’ve emphasized to my girls to protect the ball,” Johnson said. “And when you get a lead, there’s nothing wrong with (the opponent) scoring points as long as you’re going back-and-forth. We got into a rut where we gave up four or five points in a row and those are the ones that make me a little bit nervous.”

Speaking of nerves, Brunswick coach Mande Pyzik thought it was the difference in the match.

“They never really got the nerves out,” said Pyzik of her youthful Blue Devils (8-17), who were trying to beat Elyria for the first time in three tries this season. “When you play nervous, you don’t have fun and if you don’t have fun, you can’t play your game.”

Trailing 8-4 in Game 2, Pyzik called a timeout. But before play resumed, Brunswick was charged a second timeout when one of its players failed to get on the floor in time. Elyria scored the next six points and seemed in control the rest of the night.

“During tournament time, the rules become a little bit more strict than what we usually see during the season,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate that that happened. For us, we just tried to stay steady. It could have been a shift in momentum for us.”

Johnson didn’t need to worry. Momentum stayed with Elyria.

“We sped the game up,” said Pioneers senior Alexis Middlebrooks, who is headed to Cleveland State to play volleyball next year. “We played our style of game. We were putting balls down and terminating on the first time. It helped a lot.”

Middlebrooks, Tyra Darden, Mariah Johnson and Danya Corlew set the tone early for the Pioneers. Middlebrooks contributed 11 kills, three blocks and three aces. Darden had 10 kills and 15 digs. Johnson, the only junior of the four, had three solo and two block assists. Corlew came through with some key kills, as well.

Defensively, Haley Paonessa had 14 digs. Setter Emily Gonzalez contributed 32 assists.

“Us middles did a good job of pulling the blocker,” Middlebrooks said. “If they had a triple blocker, we did a good job. Our setter (Gonzalez) did a really good job changing up who she sets. Everybody just put the ball down.”

Middlebrooks is excited about the finals.

“I haven’t played in the championship game since my freshman year,” she said. “It’s the first time in the district championship game for a lot of us on this team. It’s really exciting.”

Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or timothygeb@msn.com.