AVON LAKE — When Avon Lake is clicking on all cylinders, it’s hard to single out just one Shoregal over the others. Thursday night, coach Dan Berkheimer enjoyed the best of both worlds.
Avon Lake put together a strong overall team effort in Games 1 and 2, then turned to sophomore Katie Mihalik for a lift in Game 3, en route to a 25-17, 25-21, 25-21 win over Amherst.
The Shoregals, ranked eighth in the latest Division I state coaches poll, are now perfect through their first 10 Southwestern Conference matches and 15-0 overall.
“To be honest, we’re really playing well right now as a team, and that’s something we’ve stressed all along,” Berkheimer said. “We’re faster offensively, our serves are lower on the net and I just think our defense is playing really tough for us, both blocking and back row.
“But when we needed her, I think that Katie Mihalik really responded to the challenge. If you lay a challenge in front of her, she responds in a positive way and that third game was a great example of that. She helped to shut them down, and she took some big swings down the stretch.”
Avon Lake had little trouble with Amherst in the opening two games, building early leads and allowing the Comets to hurt themselves with unforced errors. With senior Heather Smith doing a good job of getting the ball to junior Whitney Craigo, and Craigo distributing it to fellow juniors Isabelle Wagner and Christine Bohan at the net, the Shoregals were in total control of the match.
But Amherst (12-6, 7-3) would not just head to its bus without putting up one last fight.
Taking its first lead of the night at 5-4 in Game 3, and, behind the hitting of senior Maria Concheck pushing that advantage to 15-10, the Comets found a way to swing momentum in their favor and force Avon Lake into a timeout.
“We served really tough in Games 1 and 2, and did a good job of keeping them off balance,” Berkheimer said. “We got all sorts of free balls, and I thought our attack was just too quick for them. But then, early on in the third game, we missed a couple of serves and that kind of set the tone.
“Fortunately, one of the character traits of our team is that we just keep fighting, no matter what situation we’re facing. I think that we did that in the third game.”
Enter Mihalik, in her red cape, to save the day.
Collecting seven of her match-high 11 kills in Game 3, including three big blocks that helped Avon Lake regain control, Mihalik put her teammates on her back and carried them to the victory. Just don’t tell her that.
“It was one of those games where everyone was on,” she said. “Our hitters were hitting, passers and setters were doing their job, it all came together. I think this was the best we’ve played all year.
“It was great to see everyone come alive when we had to in that third game. Amherst didn’t just lay down for us, so we had to keep fighting through the whole game.”
Bohan and Wagner backed Mihalik with seven and four kills, respectively, while Craigo finished the night 43-of-43 setting with 26 assists, and Smith added 25 digs on 31-of-32 serve reception.
Amherst was paced by Erica Turner and Mallory Sliman with six kills each, while Concheck collected eight blocks. Riley Schenk totaled 19 assists for the Comets, and Ally Lewandowski finished with 22 digs.
Despite the loss, Amherst coach Laurie Cogan saw a lot of positives in her team’s play.
“We shot ourselves in the foot by making some mistakes that really didn’t have anything to do with the team on the other side of the net,” Cogan said. “Avon Lake has a nice team. They’ve played real consistent all year, and have done a great job. We knew we were coming in here against the league’s best, and I’m OK with how we performed tonight.
“I thought that, from the first time we played them to tonight, we showed a lot of growth. And with a team as inexperienced as we are, that’s what you hope for. We’re still not quite good enough, and I can accept that, but I am pleased with the improvement we’ve shown.”
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.