Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Trailing Westlake one set to none, the North Olmsted volleyball team knew it had some adjustments to make to get back into Tuesday night’s Southwestern Conference match.
Those adjustments were made, and the results soon followed.
North Olmsted, behind the one-two punch of outside hitters Tia McCord and Dana Borsz, cleaned up it’s game and went on a roll. The Eagles won the next three sets for a solid 23-25, 25-14, 25 16, 25-15 win over the Demons that kept them in the thick of the SWC race.
“We told our kids after the first game that they just needed to stay aggressive,” said Eagles head coach Jason Krucek, whose team moved to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the SWC.
“Everything we were trying to do in that game was just a little off,” Krucek said. “ After that, our passing picked up. We were having some problems on defense that we made an adjustment on, and that helped us.
“We knew if we kept pounding away that it woud eventually work out for us,” he added.
And pound away they did as senior setter Tara Kelley started to take advantage of the cleaner passing. The result was more hitting opportunities for her fellow seniors on the outside, with Borsz and McCord responding with 18 kills each.
The Eagles, who had made a strong run at the end of the first set, continued that run to start the second. A Kelley ace, a roll kill by McCord and an ace from Borsz had the Orange and Black up early, 4-1.
Another McCord kill and an ace from Courtney Nestoff made it 6-2, and the Eagles were off and running. Nine plays later, a 5-0 run off the serving of libero Alexa Cunningham made it 16-6. Borosz had three of the Eagles’ next four kills to widen the lead to 20-7, and Kelley closed it out with a tip kill that hit a wide open spot in the middle of the Demons’ defense.
Westlake bounced back briefly and took a 3-1 lead in the third set on an Allyson Pesta ace and a North Olmsted hitting error. But the Eagles quickly got back on track behind a pair of aces from Borsz, a kill down the line from Nestoff and another kill from the outside from McCord.
The Demons stayed close and were within a point at 14-13 when the wheels fell off. That’s when North Olmsted went on an 11-3 run that included 6-0 spurt down the stretch to ice the win.
In those final six points, Borsz rippped a kill down the line, then Westlake followed up with the last of it’s three errors in the final 14 points. Michelle Clark then took two straight back sets from Kelly and converted those into kills, Borsz hit a rocket from the left side and Kelley struck again with a tip from her setter spot to make it 2-1, North Olmsted.
North Olmsted, not wanting to let the Demons back into the match, jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth set. Borsz had a kill and a pair of aces to get things started for the Eagles. The lead grew to 15-4 on a slide kill from Clark and kills of Demon overpasses from Kelley and Borsz.
McCord helped close out the set - and the match - with a strong finish to her night. She registered three kills off the Westlake block in the final seven plays and served up the final point of the match.
“Tia and Dana are a one-two punch for us,” Krucek said. “And Tara’s been doing a nice job of spreading the ball around. We’ve been stressing to her that if she doesn’t use our other hitters, other teams will key on the outside.
“She’s been trying to mix things up and run plays that she has a couple of options on. If she uses those options like she did tonight, the other team won’t know what’s coming,” he said.
Krucek also felt his team’s serving had improved of late. In the four sets against Westlake, the Eagles made 10 errors in 95 attempts.
“We suffered about two weeks ago against Brecksville with 21 missed serves, so anything is better than that,” Krucek said. “We went into tonight with the mentality of attempting safe serves and making them. For the most part, that worked out for us.
“We had a little trouble with our serve receive in the beginning, but we picked up on that as well. Obviously, when the setter can get a good pass you see what happens,” he added, noting that Kelley finished her day with 47 assists.
Westlake fell to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the SWC. First-year head coach Meghan Mental felt that despite the loss, her team was still showing signs of improvement.
“We are getting better,” Mental said. “But we’re still making too many unforced errors. Those things kill you in a game, especially against a good team that’s scrappy and challenges you.
“Those are the things that you have to keep constant. We have to keep the ball in play, we have to serve aggressively. We have to do the things that we can control consistently,” she said.
Rachel Kumler led the Demons with nine kills. But 32 of those unforced errors Mental spoke of prevented Westlake from running any kind of consistent offense.
“But overall, we’re much more consistent than we were at the beginning of the season against Rocky River,” Mental said. “At the beginning of the season, we had a lot more unforced errors. We’re getting better at making decisions.
“We want our players to keep the ball in play. But if one of them has the big swing, we want them to take it. If it’s a good set and everything’s lined up, take the full swing. I can live with those if they go out of bounds.
“But things like letting balls drop without anybody going after them, those are the things we’re still trying to fine tune. It’s a matter of practicing those things every day throughout the year,” she added.