ATHENS – Following Adena’s four-set win over Tusky, it was Albany Alexander and Williamsport Westfall’s turn to take center stage at Ohio University’s Convo to battle for the right to play in Saturday’s regional championship.
Westfall had upset on its mind hoping to join fellow Scioto Valley Conference Adena in the elite eight, but Alexander spoiled any thoughts of an all SVC final by eliminating Westfall in a tight, straight set win 25-22, 25-22, 25-23.
“We did not pass very well at times tonight and that made it difficult for us to run our normal attack,” said Alexander head coach Bradd Jeffers. “The kids played hard and played through some long rallies. I am proud of their effort and now we need to turn our attention to Saturday.”
Led by its All-Ohioan Cassie Sowers, Westfall came out swinging in game one. Sowers recorded 8 kills, 2 blocks, and an ace in the opening set, but even this was not enough as Alexander used a 7-2 run to break a 12-12 tie and held off a late charge in a first set 25-23 victory.
In game two, the fast-paced Alexander offense started to pick up pace. Junior setter Lauren Raines, who ended the night with 29 assists, was having trouble getting her middle-hitters going so she started looking to the outside to fellow junior Whitney Smith. Smith responded with a team-high 20 kills.
With game two tied at 20, Alexander scored four unanswered points to go up 24-20. Westfall survived the first two game points, but Alexander’s outstanding libero Lauren Thomas started the next rally with a perfectly placed pass allowing Raines and middle hitter Betsy Irwin to hook up on a slide that ended in a cross-court hammer to seal game two 25-22 giving the red and black the two games to none advantage.
Game three looked as if Alexander was going to pull a way, but Westfall continued to hang tough. With Alexander leading 23-19, the Lady Mustangs scored four straight to tie it at 23. Alexander then scored the next point to set up match-point and Raines delivered with an ace to secure the straight set win.
“I am proud of how we played tonight,” said Westfall head coach Lori Merriman. “Alexander is a great team. We were so close in every game, but just couldn’t find a way to make that extra play to get over the hump.”
The loss marks the end of an incredible career for Westfall’s Cassie Sowers. The Westfall star now trades her Mustang gear for the green and white of Eastern Michigan where she is headed to join the Eagles volleyball program next fall. In the past four season, Sowers has led the Lady Mustangs to the sweet 16 in each season and onto the final four twice. Sowers is a three time SVC and Southeast District POY and she finishes her amazing career second on Ohio’s all-time kills list.
Westfall also will graduate Amy Adams who recorded 17 digs and was 26-28 on serve receive. Stephanie Marvin and Stacy Fuchs also played their final games for Westfall.
“Our program has accomplished a lot in the past four years,” said Merriman when asked about her departing seniors. “This group of seniors has been fun to coach and they will be tough to replace next season.”
Westfall (18-9) also got 9 kills and 2 blocks from Suzy Gantz and Haley Gabriel recorded 17 assists and 12 kills. Nicole Ratcliff had 10 digs.
Next up for Alexander (23-3) is the regional title game against Adena. The championship match is back at the Convo this Saturday at 2:00 PM.
“Laura (Coach Smith) and the Adena program do so many things right,” said Jeffers. “They have a great program with great players and coaches. We will have to play extremely well to have a chance to win.”