AVON — It doesn’t matter what’s at stake when Avon and Amherst hook up on the volleyball court.
You just know it’s going to be a dandy.
Avon clinched its first outright Southwestern Conference championship Tuesday by getting past its biggest rival in four sets, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-19.
The Eagles, ranked 14th in the state in Division I by the state’s coaches, improved to 18-3, 17-0 in the SWC with one match standing in their way of a perfect league season. Amherst fell to 12-8 and 12-5.
“It’s always Amherst, us and (Olmsted) Falls the past six years,” said Avon coach Julie Bendzuck when asked how it feels to finally win an outright conference title rather than having to share it. “Definitely winning it outright is a relief and it’s a great accomplishment for this senior class.”
“We usually split with them,” said Avon senior Katie Sopko, who had nine kills and a pair of aces. “We’ve never beaten them both times. It was a big deal for us, especially our senior year.”
It was hard-fought battle from start to finish. The Comets wanted to make the Eagles earn the crown and they certainly did just that, but in the end Avon simply had more experience.
The Eagles started six seniors if you count libero Meghan Waters, who played in place of junior Alex Laboy, excused for a family loss.
Avon’s front line combined for 50 kills. Gillian Romanchok led the way with 19 with Sydney Stone adding 12, Katie Kosiarz 10 and Sopko nine.
All four are seniors and all play well with senior setter Maddy Jerdonek, who had another outstanding all-around game.
Prior to the match, Jerdonek was awarded a plaque for getting 2,000 sets in her career. She added another 46 to the mix Tuesday while also coming up with a couple of timely kills, blocks and digs.
“We knew Amherst would be tough competition,” she said. “The last three years, we’ve lost to them at this point in the season. We know it’s really important to step on the gas and work together.”
“Maddy is an all-around solid volleyball player,” Bendzuck said. “She could probably play any position on the floor for us. To see her accomplish 2,000 assists, I know that she had that as an individual goal. Maddy just gets the game. She knows without her passers and her hitters, she would never be able to accomplish that goal.”
Yet with all that experience and ability, Amherst hung tough and gave Avon a match.
“I told them we’re coming to compete” Amherst coach Laurie Cogan said of her players. “As long as you compete, I’ll be happy. I thought my kids competed.”
The Comets certainly did. After coming back from a 22-18 deficit in the first game with five straight points to grab a 23-22 lead, they survived a hitting error only to close the game out when sophomore Kaylin Betances first saved a shot and then beat Avon’s block to set up the winning point — a nice set and kill from freshman Laken Voss to senior Taylor Small.
“That first set was important because it helped my kids believe that we’re in this,” Cogan said. “We can compete with a team of this caliber. They’re very good. They’re one of the top teams in the state of Ohio and we hang with them.”
“We knew it was going to be a fight and we had a chance,” Small said. “We came in wanting this game.”
Avon took a 9-5 lead in the second game,but the Comets battled again, keeping the score close until the Eagles took advantage of a couple of hitting and service errors.
In the third set, Avon again went up 9-4 and managed to maintain the lead throughout. Sopko beat Amherst’s block at the net to put the game away.
The fourth game was competitive until the Eagles put together a six-point run to grab a 22-18 lead. Koziarz had two kills and a block-kill during the run. Stone’s back-to-back kills finished off the game and the match.
“They always play really, really well against us,” Bendzuck said of the Comets. “I just think they’re really scrappy and they’re extremely well-coached. When you can get out of here without playing them five sets or without taking a loss, that’s definitely something to be happy about.”
“We were right there,” Cogan said. “A little mistake here or there against a team like that, you don’t get a little mistake here or there at the end of a game. Our mistakes just came at the wrong time.”
Kills: (AM) Laken Voss 19; (AV) Gillian Romanchok 19
Digs: (AM) Audrey McConihe 34; (AV) Sydney Stone 21
Blocks: (AM) Taylor Small, Morgan Smith 4; (AV) Katie Koziarz 3
Assists: (AM) Kaylin Betances 21; (AV) Maddy Jerdonek 46
Aces: (AM) Ellie Schenk 2; (AV) Katie Sopko, Romanchok 2