ATHENS – Albany Alexander made few mistakes in Saturday’s Division III regional championship as the Lady Spartans dominated from start to finish in a straight set win over Frankfort Adena to punch their ticket to state.
Alexander, the regular season Tri Valley Conference champion, has beaten a list of teams from the volleyball-strong Scioto Valley Conference in route to its second straight final four. After beating Zane Trace to capture a sectional title and Huntington to win the district title, Alexander swept through the regionals without losing a game. First, Alexander beat Westfall in Wednesday night’s semifinals before returning to the Convo on Saturday to defeat the SVC champion Adena Warriors in straight sets 25-13, 25-18, 25-18 to capture the regional title.
Alexander’s spot serving really made it difficult for Adena to develop any sort of attack. Adena’s fine back row play led by SVC defensive player of the year in Casi Coy was avoided throughout the match as Alexander well-placed serves forced some of Adena’s less-experienced players to start the Warrior offense. This had Adena setter Megan Purdin out of position on several occasions. Purdin did manage 23 assists for the match, but Alexander was able to limit Adena’s talented middle hitter Ashley Jordan to just 10 kills.
“They were able to serve consistently where they were told,” said Adena head coach Laura Smith. “If you can do that you can be successful. Alexander’s coach knows our kids well and he was able to take advantage of that throughout the match.”
This strategy was definitely emphasized in Alexander’s scouting report. Coach Bradd Jeffers and his staff knew exactly how they wanted to start each volley.
“Each girl was told two days ago in the scouting report where we were going to serve each rotation,” said Jeffers. “We take a lot of pride in our spot serving and we have kids in our rotation that use a lot of different types of serves. It definitely played a big role in today’s match.
Game one started tight, but a 10-9 Alexander lead quickly became a 16-10 lead when the Lady Spartans scored six of the next seven points. Following a Coach Smith timeout, Adena responded with two straight points only to see the Lady Spartans cap off game one on a 9-1 run to win the opening set 25-13. It was during this run that Alexander was able to win an incredible volley to steal the momentum.
First, Coy produced two incredible digs only to see Alexander Lauren Thomas – the TVC and District 13 POY – return the favor with an amazing defensive play of her own to keep the lengthy rally alive. Finally a middle attack from Adena resulted in a Betsy Irwin block that flew over the Adena coverage landing in the back row for a Spartan point.
“That point was great momentum builder for us,” said Coach Jeffers. “LT (Lauren Thomas) and the other back row girls were amazing on that volley. The plays Coy turned in on that rally show you why Adena doesn’t lose too many points like that. I feel like that point really set the tone for the rest of the match.”
Game two started much like game one, but with the game tied at seven Alexander took control again. The Spartans scored 13 of the next 17 points to take a decisive lead at 20-11. During this stretch Alexander’s junior setter Lauren Raines – who had a match high 30 assists – assisted kills from Irwin, Allie Sayers, and Whitney Smith, and then Raines capped off the run with a block and an ace to give the Spartans the nine point advantage.
Again, Adena tried to hang tough scoring four of the next five points, but it was too little too late for the Warriors as Alexander held off the Adena comeback to take the game and the two games to none advantage.
Game three was more of the same as Alexander took control early and never looked back. Irwin and Smith did enjoy great all-around games, but again it was Alexander’s supporting cast that proved to be the difference. Sayers sparked an 8-1 run in the middle of game three with her outstanding play at the net, and freshman Julia Els came up with a pair of kills during that stretch as well.
“How about her,” asked Jeffers in reference to his diaper dandy Els. “She’s not afraid of anything, and Allie (Sayers) had a great day. She really played aggressive at the net and sparked us on several occasions.”
Sayers ended with eight kills, two blocks, and 12 digs while Whitney Smith followed up her 20 kills in Wednesday’s semifinal win with 13 kills and 12 digs in Saturday’s final. Irwin controlled the middle with 11 kills and three blocks while Alexander’s other middle hitter Meghan McCoy added four blocks.
Championship point came off a Raines to Irwin slide which resulted as a kill off the Adena blockers to secure championship point. This sends Alex back to the final four and although this is a part of this year’s goal it still doesn’t paint the entire picture.
“Last year we were just happy getting there,” Lauren Thomas said of last year’s final four run that stopped due to a four-game loss to eventual state champion Anna. “This year we are more focused on going there and winning. I think we are more confident and want to prove that we belong.”
Adena (23-4) says goodbye to four seniors including Coy who finished her fine career with 17 digs on the day. Kristin Snyder recorded 6 kills and 3 blocks in her final match, and Sammie Dyer and Carly Frazier also played their final games in the two-shade blue of Adena.
“Our kids love the Adena kids and we respect Laura and her Adena program so much,” said Jeffers. “They are so classy and they have been so helpful to our program with summer program ideas and other tips that have helped us develop over the past four or five years. This unselfishness is why her program has been great and will continue to be great.”
Next up for Alexander (24-3) is a state-semifinal match with Gates Mills Gilmour Academy on Thursday at Wright State’s Ervin J. Nutter Center. This will be the second match and will start 30 minutes after the 6:00 PM game between Lima Central Catholic and Saint Bernard Roger Bacon. The two winners will advance to Saturday’s (November 10th) championship match at 11:00 A.M.