EATON TWP. — Isabelle Wagner is a player her coach, Dan Berkheimer, has long held up as an example of someone who elevates her game during the district tournament.
On Tuesday, every player on the Avon Lake team was Isabelle Wagner. The Shoregals raised the level of their play and had an easy time advancing to their second straight Division I district championship match by beating Elyria 25-10, 25-15, 25-17.
“They were very focused tonight,” Berkheimer said. “We played very clean. I don’t think we had a passing error or a hitting error until the third game.”
Berkheimer was almost right. Avon Lake didn’t have an error beyond two net violations until a
miscommunication on a free ball made the score 18-9 in Game 2. The Shoregals had only four unforced errors all evening.
The victory put Avon Lake, 19-5 and ranked No. 18 in the state, in Thursday night’s championship match against Brunswick, which beat Amherst in three games in the other semifinal Tuesday. The Shoregals will try to defend their 2011 district title, their first in 16 years.
Wagner led the Shoregals with 10 kills, but she had plenty of help. Christine Bohan added eight kills, Katie Mihalik seven, Lauren Bakaitis six and Whitney Craigo five. Craigo also had 30 assists.
“We have a lot of good hitters, and Whitney ran the offense to perfection,” Berkheimer said. “Katie Milhalik looked the best she has looked all year. This was her best match of the season.”
Mihalik missed a big chunk of the early part of the season because of an ankle injury.
So what put Avon Lake in such a groove?
“It was a combination of things,” Wagner said. “It’s the end of the season and we don’t want to stop playing. We’ve also had a lot of time playing together to get it right.
“We worked a lot on our serve receiving,” Wagner added. “We had watched (Elyria) play earlier and we knew what to expect from them.”
The Shoregals’ own serving was a weapon Tuesday. Avon Lake had 12 aces, with Bohan leading the way with four. Bakaitis added three.
Berkheimer also praised his team’s blocking. Avon Lake does not keep the number of blocks in its statistics, but the Shoregals consistently bedeviled Elyria (11-13) by rejecting kill attempts.
“Yeah, we worked on that, too,” Wagner said.
“(Avon Lake) did a lot of things well,” Elyria coach Jodie Johnson said. “They blocked and they put the ball down. Those are their two major strengths and we couldn’t stop their strengths.
“We had too many breakdowns. We couldn’t control the first ball. We weren’t in a position to play good defense. When you have those breakdowns it’s hard to succeed.”
The Pioneers opened strong in Game 3, taking a 6-2 lead before an 11-2 run by Avon Lake put the Shoregals ahead 13-8. Elyria got within 16-12 before Avon Lake closed out the match.
Emily Mandoke and Alexis Middlebrooks led Elyria with nine kills each. Haley Looney had 18 assists and Megan Schaefer and Tyra Darden led the Pioneers with eight digs each. Kathleen Durisek led Avon Lake with nine digs.
In Tuesday’s second match, Amherst (19-5) failed to overcome the size and airtight defense of Brunswick, and the Blue Devils beat the 17th-ranked Comets 25-17, 25-15, 25-22.
Gabbie Bulic led Brunswick (17-7) with 20 kills and freshman Ally Bedowski added 18 kills.
“This was not one of our better matches,” Amherst coach Laurie Cogan said. “I told them, ‘You changed something and that something had heavy consequences. We’ve played against size before. We were just out of synch. We had too many hitting errors. The timing was not good to have a bad offensive match.”
Amherst never led in Game 1. The score was 11-10 before Brunswick outscored the Comets 10-3 to go ahead 21-14. Amherst was never in contention in Game 2, but was within 22-21 in the third game before the Blue Devils rallied.
Mallory Sliman had 12 kills and Ashley Makruski added 11 kills for the Comets.
Starting time for Thursday’s championship is 7:30 p.m.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or email@example.com.