By Lisa Byers
October 12, 2012 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
Conneaut knew just how important Thursday’s Region 4 girls volleyball showdown with Meadville was.
So it summoned community members, filled up a couple of fan buses and made the journey to Meadville Area Senior High School on a mission. And the Lady Eagles made sure everyone was aware.
Conneaut dominated in every facet of the game on its way to a surprising 25-20, 25-19, 25-16 sweep of Meadville in front of a crowd of about 1,600 at the House of Thrills. The win avenges a four-game loss to the ’Dogs back on Sept. 18 and moves the Eagles into a tie with Meadville atop the Region 4 standings at 10-1 overall and 8-1 in region play.
The loss was the first of the season for the Bulldogs, who fell to 11-1 overall and 8-1 in Region 4.
“A lot of people underestimated us,” Conneaut senior setter Hailey Lowery said. “We came out and just played our game.
“I always tell the girls that they have to play with heart. You have to have passion for the game. I have passion for the game and I know everyone on my team feels the same way and worked really hard (last night).
“We were determined.”
And Conneaut let everyone know that rather quickly.
The Eagles, filled with enthusiasm, jumped out to a 4-1 lead over the Bulldogs in the opening set behind a trio of kills and a monstrous block from the duo of Darian Bodnar and Lowery and a rather deafening group of fans behind them. Conneaut had everything clicking.
That wasn’t the case for Meadville. The Bulldogs had been unstoppable through the first portion of the season largely in part to their play at the net led by star outside hitters Leah Jones and Monica Jackson and a solid serving game.
Jones and Jackson combined for just 13 kills in the loss. The Bulldogs tallied just 20 total for the match. And a team that recorded 26 service aces against Oil City on Tuesday had just four against the Eagles and committed five errors.
“We need both of those things against these good teams,” Meadville coach Tammy Webber said of its offense and service game. “We were off tonight and they didn’t give us any chances.
“To their credit, they could have beaten anyone tonight.”
Offensively, the Eagles had six different players record at least one kill led by Challen Litwiler’s match-high 19. Kristen Baker was also hot from the outside, finishing the night with 12 kills. Bodnar added nine kills.
But Conneaut’s dominance at the net didn’t stop at offense. The Eagles, who have some height, put it to good use against the Bulldogs. Conneaut finished with 10 stuff blocks. Lowery and Baker had three each.
One of Baker’s stuffs came after back-to-back blocks by Melanie Steigerwald and Bodnar that the Bulldogs were able to dig out and put back into play. Baker’s block wasn’t coming back and gave the Eagles a 10-5 lead in Game 2.
“We definitely improved since the last time we saw them,” Conneaut coach Tim Schleicher said. “I’m so proud of my team. They played so well at the net. I think we blocked better than we have all season. We played defense.
“We played hard. We let mistakes roll off our backs and stayed aggressive. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for our team moving up a class (to Class AA) and coming in and beating a team like this.”
And they did so in an atmosphere few players on either team had played in before. Not even the crowd at last year’s state championship match between Linesville and Clarion was quite as loud.
“I think the rivalry is born,” Schleicher said.
“This is what you see at a high school football game or basketball game,” Webber said. “What an atmosphere.”
Conneaut’s sweep should give the Eagles the tiebreaker against Meadville, which won the first meeting in four games. The Eagles would then play the No. 7 at large seed in the quarterfinals of the District 10 Class AA tournament.
The Bulldogs would likely be the No. 5 at large team and would play the Region 6 top seed — Harbor Creek — in the quarterfinals.
There are still three region matches remaining for both Conneaut and Meadville, though.