Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
The Avon Lake and Berea-Midpark volleyball teams have two of the youngest rosters in the Southwestern Conference. With just five seniors in both starting lineups combined, there's a lot of learning going on during these early-season matches.
But Tuesday night, it was evident the two squads were at different points on that learning curve.
The Shoregals, playing at a faster pace offensively, shook off some early mistakes and rolled to a 25-20, 25-13, 25-13 win over the visiting Titans. With the win, Avon Lake continued its strong start in the SWC at 3-0.
Berea-Midpark, playing just its third match and without 6-3 sophomore setter Maggie Nedoma, fell to 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
Avon Lake, coming off a thrilling 5-set win over Brecksville, jumped out to an 18-9 lead in the first set. But a series or errors allowed the Titans to crawl back into it. After Sophomore Destinee Harris recorded a block kill, the Shoregals had a center line violation, and hitting error and a miscommunication that led to a drop.
All of a sudden, it was 21-16, prompting Avon Lake head coach Dan Berkheimer to call a timeout.
"For the first time yesterday in practice, we put in free ball plays off of serve receive," Berheimer said. "That's why in game one, I had to call a timeout.
"I said 'I get it, you're all thinking right now instead of playing.' I could see that," he said. "After that, we only ran those plays in rotations three and six. Once we changed that, I thought we played a lot better. Whenever you're thinking, you're going to slow down your performance.
"That's the direction we want this team to go. We don't have the big, tall girls like we used to, but we have speed and good ball control. Our setters are good and fast. So if we can have a lot of speed on offense and play scrappy defense, we can play with a lot of teams," he said.
The Shoregals went on to close out the first set on a pair of kills from freshman middle hitter Emily Schillinger. In the second set, the home team jumped out to a 16-6 lead with senior middle Katie Coughlin recording three kills and freshman outside hitter Tate Rybarczyk adding two in that run.
Berea-Midpark, playing well in stretches, could not gain any consistency offensively.
"That seems to be the recurring theme for us so far this season," said Titans head coach Jeanne Williams.
"We're young overall. We only have three seniors, with a bunch of juniors and sophomores," she said. "I expect to see a lot of mistakes. The repetitive mistakes are what get to us, things like serve receive errors.
"Then our passers get down on themselves, and they don't think they can do it," she said.
Avon Lake, on the other hand, shook off whatever passing errors it made on the night to turn in a solid performance. The Shoregals also served well, making just three service errors with four aces.
"I thought our serve receiver was better than their's," said Berkheimer, whose team raised its overall record to 4-2."I think that was the big difference maker for us.
"We also have multiple hitters we can get the ball to," he said. "I think Coughlin hit some of the hardest balls she's hit so far this year. But honestly, I thought our serve receive was very tough. And when your serve receive is tough, you can do whatever you want.
"We had a lot of hitting opportunities, and I thought we served the ball pretty well too. Coach Thrasivoulou was calling out serves, and from what I could see, for the most part, we were hitting our locations," he said.
Coughlin and fellow senior Devan Rybarczyk each recorded 10 kills for the Shoregals, while junior setter Kaitlyn Applegate dished out 21 assists. Senior libero Lauren Kollias registered 15 digs.
Berea-Midpark, despite being down two sets to none, continued to fight back. The Titans kept things much closer in the third set, leading at one point 10-8. They trailed by only two, 15-13, on a kill from senior middle Jackie Henley.
But Avon Lake regrouped and went on a 10-0 run to close out the set and the match.Three kills from Coughlin helped fuel that match-clinching stretch and sent the Titans home still seeking their first win of 2014.
"Volleyball is a mental game," Williams said. "As far as winning goes, it's something these girls haven't learned.
"Before the merger, as Berea and as Midpark, those teams didn't know how to win. So, bringing them together has brought more of the same. Learning how to win is a mental skill, and it is something they are slowly developing. They're in every match, they're not giving up.
"They still go on those long runs where they get down by eight, but they don't give up. They fight back, so it's slowly coming around," she added.
Williams went on to reveal what her team needed to turn the corner.
"I think for our team, it's getting that first win, or getting up by 10 or even six," she said. "Maybe even just winning the first set, or the second set. They need to get something like that under their belt so they realize that they can do it.
"I think that would help them a lot. That's true even for my seniors, who came from separate schools that didn't win very much. They don't know how that feels. Once they do, I think things will change," she said.
Berea-Midpark continues SWC play Thursday night at Amherst. Avon Lake will also be on the road that night as the Shoregals travel to Westlake.
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