Elyria Catholic Panthers loses district final to Cuyahoga HeightsTigers

Elyria Catholic's Abbey Flowers, left, blocks tha ball right back at Cuyahoga Height's Sarah Gehring in the Division III District final last night. MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL

Elyria Catholic’s Karissa McGrath, back, tips the ball away from Cuyahoga Heights Veronica Gehring in the first game of Thursday night’s Division III District Final. MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL

ELYRIA — The Elyria Catholic girls’ volleyball team was hoping to earn a third straight Division III District championship on Thursday night when the Panthers faced Cuyahoga Heights at Elyria High School.

What Elyria Catholic found instead was heartache dropping a 25-21, 25-22, 25-22 match to a Redskins team that dug out Panther shots that normally hot the floor, dove and saved balls seemingly going out of play and slipping quick-set shots past a normally stout Elyria Catholic defense.

With the loss, Elyria Catholic finishes a great season with a 21-4 mark. Cuyahoga Height, now 21-4, advances to the Sweet Sixteen at Barberton High School next Thursday when it faces Gilmour Academy in the second match of the night.

“We had issues with serve-receive right away and being the smart team that they are, they targeted our serve receive,” Panthers head coach Jen Lee said. “Then we had issues setting the ball. Cuyahoga Heights uses what they have very well and they are a very aggressive team.”

Elyria Catholic jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in game one, but a litany of hitting and service errors doomed the Panthers as the Redskins clawed back from the early deficit to grab an 8-7 lead.

From that point, Cuyahoga Heights sisters Veronica (sophomore) and Sarah Gehring (senior) began attacking the Panthers defense with a series of quick sets and short-set hits just above the net that went under a number of Elyria Catholic block attempts.

“You almost didn’t have to jump, you basically just had to put your hands there,” Lee said about the Redskins attack. “You can train and prepare these girls, but they are used to playing a different style and when you get to this it’s hard to convert. They go back to their muscle memory and what they are used to.”

Four service points by Tina Horvath and two by Sarah Gehring helped seal the Panthers fate in the first game as three of the points came on hitting errors and another on a service ace in a 25-21 win.

Elyria Catholic played catch-up all through the second game as five service points by Katie Janowicz and five more from Rachel Duffield allowed the Panthers to tie the score at 9-9 and 17-17, but each time Cuyahoga Heights benefitted by Elyria Catholic mistakes.

Two hitting errors, a setting error and a net violation put EC in a hole that could not be overcome despite a couple of big kills by Duffield as she finished the match with five kills losing 25-22.

It looked like the Panthers might be getting on track early in the third game as Karissa McGrath knocked down four of her 17 kills to give Elyria Catholic a 6-4 lead.

Once again though, it was Panther mistakes that fueled a 9-3 run giving the Redskins a 13-9 lead. Elyria Catholic aided Cuyahoga Heights with three hitting errors, a service error and another net violation.

The Panthers fought back from the miscues to lead 18-16 getting three service points from Kit O’Shaughnessy including an ace, another ace from Janowicz, a side-out kill by McGrath and a kill by Duffield.

That would be the last lead of the night and the season for Elyria Catholic as the Gehring sisters each added a pair of kills in outing together a 9-4 run to close out the three-game sweep of the two-time defending district champions.

“Our whole offense runs around our defense,” Cuyahoga Heights head coach Tom Burton said. “We are not a big team, but we play with a big heart. The kids just picked up so much tonight against a great Elyria Catholic program. We made some adjustments during the match that worked out well for us.

“Kit (O’Shaunghnessy) is such a great player and our game plan was to keep her and (Karissa) McGrath out of it. They were going to get their kills, but we tried to minimize that.

“When we get in our system, we can be a tough team. We are not big, but the way we swing we can keep teams off-balance.”

Following the loss, Panther coach Jen Lee reflected on the group of seniors that led Elyria Catholic to both West Shore Conference and district championships.

“This is really a great group of kids. We didn’t get the trophy in the end, but the trophy was the time we spent together and the memories we built. They will realize that down the road when they get older.”

@MJournalSports



Cuyahoga Hts. 3, Elyria Catholic 0

Division III District Final

Elyria Catholic (21-4) 21 22 22

Cuyahoga Heights (21-4) 25 25 25

HITTING: CH: Veronica Gehring 16 kills, Lucy Mervar 7 kills; EC: Karissa McGrath 17 kills, Kit O’Shaughnessy 8 kills; SETTING: CH: Corinne Zielinski 28 assists; SERVING: CH: Tina Horvath 11 points, Zielinski 8 points; EC: Katie Janowicz 8 points, O’Shaunghnessy 7 points, Rachel Duffield 7 points; DIGS: CH: Horvath 25, Kylie Ciolek 22.

Last Updated: 10/25/2012 11:25:46 PM EST

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