WESTLAKE — Unity against a hard-hitting, experienced opponent.
That is exactly what the Avon Lake Shoregals showed in their Southwestern Conference volleyball match against the Westlake Demons on Tuesday night.
Trailing by multiple points in every set, the Shoregals pushed the match to five games and held an early lead in Game 5 before suffering a 22-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-23, 12-15 loss to the Demons.
“I thought our team showed unity,” Avon Lake coach Dan Berkheimer said. “I thought we kept competing. It was a back-and-forth battle all night. The bottom line is, we did not serve-receive well and it really hurt us.”
Despite being down 14-6 and 22-15 in the first set because of the serving strength and net prowess shown by Westlake’s Leah Schmidt, Avon Lake would not go away quietly.
The grit Avon Lake (2-2) showed late in the first set paid dividends in the second, as the Shoregals fought back from an early 8-3 deficit. Despite back-and-forth exchanges with neither team holding serve for more than three consecutive points, the Shoregals rallied when it counted most and evened the match.
However, when Westlake (3-1, 2-1 SWC) needed an answer, Schmidt once again proved to be a factor, as she registered four kills and a tip shot to the corner of the floor that sealed the third game and gave the Demons a 2-1 edge in the match.
“We work a lot on our mental game,” Westlake coach Meghan Spriggs said. “Two-second rule. We did not play our best match or set every time, but that Game 5, when it started, we said, ‘We’re focusing, the first five, get to eight, get to 10,’ and that was our laser focus.”
Much like in the third set, when victory was on the line in the fifth, Schmidt provided the leadership and production necessary to close out the win, as she was directly responsible for six points, including a service ace and four kills, the last of which came on the final point of the match.
“When she’s playing, Leah’s unstoppable, to be honest,” Spriggs said.
“When her head is in it and she wants to put balls away, she definitely can, and she’s really stepped up for us. Even last year, she’s really been a go-to for us since she was a freshman, but today I think she really turned that corner, kind of buckled down, knew that the game was on her back and she carried us and did a great job.”
Berkheimer said, “Really, in the end, her back-row attack was what won the match for them.”
Tuesday’s match was the beginning of a tough stretch for the Shoregals, as they play at home just once over the next three weeks, and it comes Thursday against Lakewood.
“I feel good about the team,” Berkheimer said. “When we get the pieces together and they use that energy and that fight, I think we’re going to be in good shape.”