Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
After dropping a 25-13 opening set to Rocky River, things didn't look good for the Lakewood Rangers volleyball team. A combination of unforced errors and some efficient offense by the visiting Pirates made it look like a rough night was in store for the home team.
Such was not to be the case.
The Rangers got off to a quick start in the second set, held on for the win and went on to score a 13-25, 27-25, 25-22, 25-22 win over Rocky River in a key West Shore Conference match Tuesday night. The Rangers moved into a tie with the Pirates for second place in the conference with one match remaining.
Bay stayed in the hunt for the runner-up spot as well, taking a 25-19, 13-25, 25-20, 26-24 decision against first-place Elyria Catholic. The Rockets will host Rocky River on Thursday night, while the Rangers host Avon on the final night of the WSC season.
Lakewood, now 12-9 overall and 8-5 in the WSC, shook off its first-set disaster and jumped out to a 6-1 lead. But the Pirates would eventually catch their hosts at 22-22, setting up a down-to-the-wire finish that would swing the match's momentum in the Rangers' favor.
The Pirates took the lead on a kill from senior setter Liz McIlwee, but the resulting Lakewood serve went wide to keep things tied at 23-23. The home team took the lead again on a roll shot for a kill by Junior hitter Madeline Bruening, but River countered with a Justine Coffman kill to keep the set dead even.
That's when freshman outside hitter Gabby Wine went to work. She scored two of her match-high16 kills in the next three points to give her team a 26-25 advantage. The set went to the Rangers on the next play when McIlwee found senior middle hitter Amanda Hammad on a quick for the winning kill.
As close as the end of the second set was, the third set was even closer. The score was tied nine times early, with the Pirates taking a brief 11-10 lead on a Ranger serving error. But the Rangers edged back out in front and pushed the lead to 18-13 five straight service points from Wine.
Rocky River found itself trailing 24-20 as Wine ripped another kill off the Pirate block. Another Ranger hitting error and a tandem block kill from Coffman and Mallory Krajcer pulled the visitors back to within two, but the Pirates botched a play on the offensive end to give the set to Lakewood.
Rocky River bounced back to take an early 8-4 lead on another Krajcer-Coffman block and a kill out of the middle by Coffman. The Pirates maintained the lead until point 17 when a Pirate error gave the Rangers the lead for good. Lakewood built the lead to 22-19 on a pair of quicks from Hammad and a solo block kill by the Ranger senior.
A Mary Kate Krajcer kill on a downfall pulled River to within two at 22-20, but Lakewood got kills from Emily Marek and sophomore middle Alex Tubbs to take a 24-22 lead. A River hitting error ended the set, as well as the match.
For the match, Wine led the way with her 16 kills, while Hammad and Tubbs each chipped in with eight. McIlwee dished out 38 assists to fuel the Rangers' offense.
"Our passing has gotten better, and our middles are getting used to the faster offense we're running," said Lakewood head coach Jeff Schaef after the postage meeting with his squad.
"Our outsides are stepping up, and Liz is playing extremely solid," Schaef continued. "Amanda had a great night with her shot selection. Not everything was a hard kill, but she found open spots on the floor. That's what a good middle does.
"Gabby just plugs away. She does her thing and hits the ball," said Schaef of his young outside hitter. "We've worked a lot this season on being smart hitters, which shows by what our middles are doing. But Gabby is getting it too, as is Emily. She had another nice game for us tonight."
On the other side of the net, Rocky River head coach Kelly Bennet felt her team didn't play with the fire and determination she expected.
"I could tell in the first game that we were flat and just going through the motions," Bennett said. "We didn't make a lot of mistakes in that game and Lakewood did, but we were flat. So in that second game, we got ourselves in a big hole.
"We're a good enough team that we were able to inch our way back. We played just OK that game and still had opportunities at the end to win. In the third game, we dig ourselves another hole and finally decide to wake up and give ourselves a chance to win. This is kind of how we started the season back in September. I've seen that team the past couple of days, and I hope we snap out of it.
"We were kind of quiet. We were flat and we lacked a lot of communication and celebration. It looks like we were just out there and not playing for second place. We weren't playing to put it away and be in control. It was frustrating to watch," she added.
Mary Kate Krajcer led the Pirates with 12 kills and 17 digs, while Coffman added 10 kills and four blocks. Setter Mindy Kurz dished out 33 assists. Kara Coffman, one of River's outside hitters, played, but was hampered by an ankle injury, according to Bennett.
With the loss, the Pirates fell to 10-11 overall and 8-5 in the WSC. After the Bay match, they will begin Strongsville Division I tournament play Tuesday, Oct. 15 against Cleveland Lincoln West at 7:15 p.m.
Lakewood will begin tournament play at Strongsville on Wednesday, Oct. 16 against Cleveland Rhodes at 7:15 p.m.
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