River rolls in three set win over youthful Westlake
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
A three-set loss in the season opener probably wasn’t what first-year head coach Meghan Mental and her Westlake Demons were looking for Saturday afternoon.
But from Mental’s perspective, brighter days are ahead despite a 25-11, 25-17, 25-21 loss to visiting Rocky River that officially opened the 2012 volleyball season in the Westshore.
“Since were so young, I’m trying to get the girls to stay positive and move on to the next play,” Mental said after the match.
“Sometimes we tend to let our mistakes get to us,” she said. “We’re getting better, though, at shaking those off. For example, we’ve got two sophomore middles, and they’re working hard at just moving on to the next play.
“That’s what we have to learn overall as a team. We have to learn how to bounce back from errors, mistakes and losses and just move on to the next game. We want to have fun, stay positive and not worry about what happened today. In game three, we started to have fun and play our game, and we started going in the right direction,” she added.
In the first two sets, however, Rocky River had its way with the young Demons.
In the first set, the Pirates jumped out to a 16-3 lead. They established themselves at the net quickly as middle hitter Kara Coffman and outside hitter Mallory Scott combined for a pair of blocks, while Coffan added a solo block during the run. Three kills from outside hitter Mary Kate Krajcer, along with seven Demons errors, had River off and running to an easy win.
A Krajcer kill, a solo block from Coffman and a Coffman tip for another kill had the Pirates rolling again, 3-0, in the second set. Westlake stayed closer this time, though, as senior outside hitters Rachel Kumler and Allyson Pesta went to work.
Kumler registerd four kills while Pesta put down three kills of her own as the Demons threatened to take their first lead of the afternoon. But River answered the challenge late, using a 7-0 run to close out the set.
Westlake took its first lead of the day to open the third set when setter Mackenzie Hurd ripped an ace on her first attempt. Then down 8-4, the Demons took advantage of six straight Pirate errors to take the lead again, 10-8.
That would be the biggest - and final - lead of the day for the home team.
Krajcer got the Pirates back in gear with a back row kill, then sophomore Mallory Scott scored out of the back on the very next play to tie the set at 10-10. A Westlake hitting error gave the lead back to River, and a solo block by Coffman added fuel to what turned out to be a 9-0 Pirate run.
Westlake recovered and came back again later in the set. the Demons got to within a point, 21-20, on a Hurd service ace and a lift call on the Pirates. But Krajcer again answered the call, getting a tip kill and blasting back a Demon overpass for another.
Those two plays prompted a 4-1 run that closed out the set and the match.
“No matter who you’re playing, you have to be able to relax and pass the ball, especially in serve receive” said River head coach Kelly Bennett, who had some young players of her own on the court in Scott and freshman middle hitter Justine Coffman, Kara’s sister.
“We just came off of a practice yesterday where I drilled serves at them for half and hour,” Bennett said. “I told them if they could pass my serves, they could pass anybody’s. Serve receive is so mental.
“There’s obviously going to be mistakes out there, so if you miss one, you forget about it. It’s on to the next ball, the next point. We did a really good job today of not giving up too many big runs. We gave up a few points here and there, but no big stretches of five or six points.
“We did have a little bit of a breakdown in our serve receive in the third set and a couple of hitting errors. But that was really our one pitfall during the match. We worked our way through it, though,” she said.
The Pirates were also helped by a solid serving game. In 72 attempts, they had only six errors with eight aces.
“I thought our servers did a really nice job today,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a lot of different types of servers, which I think is good. That keeps the passers on the other side of the net guessing.”
On the other side of the coin, Mental felt her team’s passing game fell short of expectations.
“Our passing was very shaky today,” Mental said. “It definitely wasn’t where we need to be if we want to compete in the SWC. We’re definitely going to go into practice Monday and work on those types of things and fine tune them a bit.
With the opening match out of the way, the Demons have another tough assignment to open the Southwestern Conference season when they take on perennial powerhouse Olmsted Falls Tuesday night.
“I think we were a little nervous, a little jittery out there at times,” said Mental, a former standout for the Bulldogs.
“We only have two returning players out there on the court,” Mental said. “So we’re not as experienced as some of the other teams. But we’ll go back to work and get ready for the conference season opener Tuesday night with Olmsted Falls.”
And what was it like for the rookie head coach going through her first high school match as a coach and not a player?
“It was great,” Mental said with a smile. “But I miss not being on the floor. As you see, sometimes while I’m coaching it almost feels like I’m trying to step onto the court.
“I’m really excited for this season. I think this kind of gave us a bit of a wake up call. We know where we stand and we know what we have to do to win,” she concluded.