The schedule may have listed Tuesday’s Cochranton-Conneaut Valley volleyball game as a non-region affair, but the Cardinals didn’t seem to notice.
Their intensity was through the roof, the trash talk was flying and the Redbirds wanted to send a message to their Region 1 rival.
Message sent. And it was loud and clear.
Fueled by 16 kills from Michael Shirey, the Cards dominated the Indians from start to finish in a 25-19, 25-15, 25-16 three-game sweep at Conneaut Valley High School.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Shirey, who gave Valley fits all night with his strong kills from the outside hitter position. “Yeah, I talked a little smack, but it makes it fun. That’s what volleyball is all about.”
It sure is fun when you play like Cochranton did.
The Cards trailed one time during the match — a mere 1-0 deficit to start the third game — and had Valley frustrated throughout. It was exactly what Cochranton head coach Brad Custead was looking for in this warm-up against the Indians. The two teams will get together again April 19 in a Region 1 contest.
“We played solid,” Custead said. “We played real good defense. I’m not saying we played our best volleyball, but it was really good.”
Cochranton (1-1) wasted little time setting the tone, jumping out to a 4-0 lead to open the contest and led by as many as 10 with a 16-6 advantage, thanks to good ball movement and a steady dose of good defense and hustle.
Valley wouldn’t go down in Game 1 without a fight, however.
With sophomore Brett White serving, the Indians closed the gap and trailed by just four at 19-15. But in what would become a trend that lasted throughout, Cochranton stayed poised and stole back the momentum with its play. And in what also became a trend, Shirey emphatically put the first game in the books with a thunderous kill.
“Michael is an excellent player,” Custead said. “He’s doing a very good job leading the team. He’s our go-to man right now.”
Unfortunately for Valley (1-1), Shirey wasn’t the only one having a day with kills. Logan Herzberger wanted to get in on the fun as well.
Herzberger added seven kills and 21 digs, several of which were big during game two. Again, Cochranton jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the intense middle game. Sticking to the same script, Valley kept it close and moved within two and trailed 11-9. The home team just couldn’t match the intensity of the visitors.
“We just tried to stay up all game and keep going at them,” said Herzberger, who also added eight service points and two blocks to his night. “No matter what, we don’t want the ball to hit the floor. A point is a point and we can’t let anything go.”
The frustration was growing for the Indians, mostly due to the play — and at times talking — of the Cards. Cochranton did a nice job of playing around Valley’s Todd Lash, an imposing figure who can wreak havoc with kills and blocks due to his lengthy frame.
During a timeout in the second game, Valley head coach John Chapman urged his team to set it up for Lash and see if the Cards could stop him. It just never panned out. Lash finished with eight kills and Valley’s other weapon, Nolan Varee, dished out 11 assists in a quiet night on the court.
“We kept (the ball) away from (Lash) and Nolan,” Custead said. “We tried to push Nolan so he wouldn’t get most of the sets and just tried to keep it away from Lash in the middle. Those are two solid ball players. That’s the heart of their team and if you can take them out, you can win. And we did.”
Again Valley kept it close for a short while in the third. But it was just too much Shirey and too much Herzberger mixed in with a solid team effort throughout.
Chad Eisenhooth played solidly, leading the Cards with six blocks. Nick Dickson totaled 24 digs and two service aces, tied with Herzberger for the team lead.
On paper, it was one-sided. But the glares, trash talking and intensity should set the stage for quite a rematch on April 19.
“We’ve been on our kids the last couple of weeks to get an attitude,” Custead said. “When you get a big kill, talk a little bit. But you also have to be able to man up on whatever you say. They’re going to come at us now, so we have to be able to back this up.”