Wednesday, February 8, 2023

VASJ volleyball back in state final four

Experience, talent and heart can carry a volleyball team a long way.

On Nov. 1, those three attributes helped carry Villa Angela-St. Joseph back to the state final four.

For the second straight year, VASJ faced Tuscarawas Central Catholic in a regional final. For the second straight year, the Vikings were hoisting the Division IV Solon Regional championship trophy after beating the Saints, 3-1 (20-25, 25-23, 27-25, 27-25).

VASJ will face the winner of the Fort Loramie/Springfield Central Catholic Tipp City regional final, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m in a D-IV state semi.

After dropping the first set to Tuscarawas CC, the Vikings were able to fall back on experience and a gutsy team effort to carry them back to Fairborn for a state semifinal appearance.

"We've been in these situations before. Our kids always know how to make up for it and turn around and play some great volleyball. Dropping the first set is not the end of the world," VASJ coach Mark Royer said. "When our team has come back a lot we are realizing mistakes and making adjustments between sets and pulled it out.

"There were so many big points today. It was do or die out there and they played in the moment. Last year, we were here against the same team and we knew we had a battle today. I am glad the girls stepped up and came through today."

Both Games 3 and 4 were back and forth. VASJ senior McKenna Walker (6 kills and 4 aces) came up with a big kill to give the Vikings a 17-15 lead in Game 3.

After the Saints took the lead at 20-18, the Vikings (20-7) struck back and had to come back once more from a 25-24 deficit. One point away from going down 2-1 in the match, they rallied for three straight points and the advantage.

In Game 4, VASJ trailed, 16-12, and as late as 22-18. After battling back to 22-22, the Vikings held off a solid Saints squad to move on to Fairborn.

"They had some awesome players, great athletes," Royer said. "Our kids hung in there. That third game was big. This could have gone either way. They have a great team. For us, we did the little things and we have a great group of girls and they did the little things that made a huge difference.

"This was just one great team win, top to bottom. We had a lot of contributions today, from kids who aren't used to playing, some sophomores who were a little nervous, but we called on them for one or two plays and things worked out. I can't say enough about the kids' heart and drive."

Royer mentioned having three assistant coaches who played for him before and five senior who provided leadership throughout the season and the match.

Toni Beuck, a senior and a multi-sport standout, said the team stayed together through all the difficult moments.

"This win means a lot and I wanted nothing more than to get to states as a senior and we all worked hard to get here," Beuck said. "We work hard in practice and prepare well to come back when we are down.

"It is really fun to go back as seniors. Some of us have been with Coach Royer for five years since 8th grade. Even when we were down, we knew we could do it."

Rachel Smith had 42 assists for VASJ. Nicole Cramer was 33 of 34 in serve/receives. Taylor Sawicki had 19 digs for the Vikings. Emily Mastalski had 7 kills and 4 blocks.

20-25, 25-23, 27-25, 27-25
VASJ (18-7)
Beuck 12 kills, 18 digs; Smith 42 assists; Mastalski 7 kills, 4 blocks; Cramer 33/34 serve receive; Walker 6 kills, 4 ace

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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