Albany Alexander outlasts Gilmour Academy in D-III state semis

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Albany Alexander’s Betsy Irwin
In a Division III volleyball state semifinal match that took nearly two hours to
complete Thursday, the Lady Spartans of Albany Alexander held off a scrappy
Gilmour Academy team to win a five-set instant classic 25-18, 25-21,
18-25, 24-26, 16-14 at Wright State’s Nutter Center in Fairborn.
Alexander plays Lima Central Catholic for the state title at 11 a.m.
Saturday.


FAIRBORN – In a Division III volleyball state semifinal match that took nearly two hours to
complete Thursday, the Lady Spartans of Albany Alexander held off a scrappy
Gilmour Academy team to win a five-set instant classic 25-18, 25-21,
18-25, 24-26, 16-14 at Wright State’s Nutter Center in Fairborn.
Alexander plays Lima Central Catholic for the state title at 11 a.m.
Saturday.

With Alexander’s offense extremely sharp in the early going, setter Lauren Raines was receiving pinpoint passes from All-Ohio libero Lauren Thomas and the other back row Lady Spartans. Raines had some good early rhythm with middle hitter Betsy Irwin and outside threat Whitney Smith as Alexander cruised to wins in the first two sets.

Alexander (25-3), a team that had not dropped a game during its entire tournament run, looked as if it were on its way to another straight set win following a dominating performance in games one and two; however, Gilmour came charging back in the third set to cut the Alexander lead in half and that’s when things really got interesting.

“We changed our rotation up a little bit to try to slow down number seven,” said Gilmour head coach Jeff Grzybowski referring to Alexander’s Betsy Irwin “I think it helped slow her down a little bit later in the match, but we were unable to make a few more plays to get the job done.”

In game four, the two teams could not shake one another. After the game was tied for the 12th time at 23, Gilmour (24-4) got a great defensive effort from Kelsey Rodgers and Mary Kramer as the Lancer duo produced a block that gave their team a 24-23 advantage. Alexander survived the game point thanks to a service error, but a Flocken to Kramer kill followed by a Brittany Shirk block completed the 26-24 game four victory for Gilmour sending the two teams to fifth and deciding game.

Game five took on much of the same excitement. The sprint to 15, win by two, left little time for slow starts and both Alexander and Gilmour responded matching one another at two, three, and four, before Alexander ran off four straight to force a Gilmour timeout. The Lancers returned the favor with a four-point spurt of their own to tie the final game at eight forcing Alexander to talk things over.

“We just tried to stay positive,” said Alexander coach Bradd Jeffers about what was said during the timeout. “We just kept stressing to the girls that they were going to have to make plays. We knew Gilmour wasn’t going to quit. Their defense was amazing at times tonight, so we knew in order to win the match we were going to have to make some plays to earn it.”

Following the Spartan timeout, Gilmour continued its run thanks to Kramer’s second and third consecutive service ace capping off a 6-0 run for the Lancers. A Raines to Megan McCoy kill cut the Lancer lead to 10-9. The two teams then traded a pair of errors to have Gilmour clinging to a 12-11 lead.

Over the next four points, Alexander would win three points thanks to a pair of kills and an assist from Raines to give the Spartans a 14-13 lead. After Coach Grzybowski called his final timeout, Alexander got what they wanted with Irwin in the middle, but Kramer was there again to record one of her six blocks to draw her Lancers even at 14-14. Alexander finally put an end to this five-set marathon as Raines to Smith resulted in a kill and an Irwin ace – her third of the match – iced the victory.

“We have spots that the coaches want us to hit,” said Irwin of her game winner. “In that spot I was just trying to get it in and it worked out.”

Raines ended with 57 assists as the Spartans had three girls reach double-figures in kills with Smith getting 23, Irwin recording 16, and Allie Sayers 14. Equally impressive was the Alexander defense which was led by Thomas and her match-high 28 digs. Sayers dug up 22 balls while Smith and Raines recorded 19 and 18 digs, respectively.

“I have all the confidence in the world in all of our front row players,” said Raines. “Last year we only had a few options we could really go to when the game was on the line, but this year everybody has worked so hard to get better, and I feel like I can send it anywhere at anytime.”

In a losing effort – a near amazing comeback effort – Gilmour turned in an outstanding defensive match against the balanced Alexander attack. Raysa Sylvester recorded 18 kills and 23 kills while Eileen Lane and Jess Hammer each dug up 21 Spartan attacks. Rogers, Gilmour’s senior setter, was outstanding with 34 assists, 13 digs, and five blocks in her final game wearing the royal blue and silver. Kramer, only a sophomore, chipped in 11 kills and five blocks.

“I give my kids a lot of credit for coming back,” said Grzybowski. “It would have been easy to quit, but that’s just not what these girls are about. They have great heart and a great desire for the game. They love to compete and that is what I love about this group.”

As for the Lady Spartans, they are one step away from the top prize.

“It’s exciting,” said Thomas of playing for a state championship on Saturday. “We’re in the final two. This has been our goal all along and now we’re here. As a senior you never want it to be over, but if it has to be than you hope it ends with a win.”

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