Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
October 26, 2017
After 11 side-outs to start the match, the Solon and Kenston volleyball teams were fixing to go the long haul during the Division I Solon District semifinals on Tuesday night at the Lady Comets’ home court.
Solon 6-foot senior Morgan Goodwin was setting the tone in the middle, while Kenston senior setter Taylor Gilbert was keeping the Lady Comets’ defense honest with a pair of set attacks that found hardwood.
Breaking a 13-13 deadlock, Kenston senior defensive specialist Zoe Curtis went on a seven-point service run, with four aces in the mix, to get the best of Solon, opening the door for a 25-15 victory for the Lady Bombers in the first set.
“Obviously, we knew they had a really good right side and a setter that could score a lot of points in the center of our court,” Solon senior setter Joslyn Kowalski said, referring to Gilbert and also Kenston’s 6-foot-1 senior Victoria Jepson, a Lehigh recruit.
“But our game plan was to serve tough and really focus on our middle hitters,” Kowalski said. “And basically, do whatever we needed to get the win.”
The Lady Comets entered the game with a 16-7 record and owned the No. 3 seed in the 12-team district, while Kenston had a 15-8 record and the No. 2 seed in the district.
In what has become a sure playoff collision, Solon and Kenston have hit head on in the postseason for seven straight years now. The Lady Comets won a 3-1 battle during the 2016 district semifinals, after Kenston had won the previous four matchups.
“We’re young, so a lot of that history doesn’t exist to them,” Solon third-year head coach Corey Verchio said. “We have six sophomores on the team, so they don’t really know about the rivalry. The last couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to pull ahead of them. So, the rivalry is definitely there, but they wanted to get to Saturday. I think that’s what the motivation was – not so much Kenston, but they wanted to see Brecksville.”
Defending state champion Brecksville-Broadview Heights (19-5) beat Solon, 3-0, in the district semifinals last year.
On Tuesday night, the Lady Bees handled Nordonia, 3-0, in the first of the two semifinal matches at Solon.
But, if the Solon girls wanted another date with Brecksville in the district finals this year, they were going to have to clean up their act against Kenston.
In that opening set loss, the Lady Comets committed eight hitting errors, four service errors and a violation to spot Kenston 13 points. And Kenston’s aggressive serving also was causing fits with five aces in that opening stanza.
“We just needed to clean things up, get our passes up and get our hitting under control,” Solon’s Goodwin said. “We needed to control what we could control, and that’s really the only way to play the game.”
The Lady Comets only had seven more hitting errors the rest of the match – one less than that first set alone – to take control and win the next three sets, 25-15, 25-17, 25-18, for the 3-1 victory.
Out of the middle, in particular, Goodwin finished the match with 13 kills and eight blocks, while her partner in crime, 6-foot junior Naeemah Story, tallied 12 kills with three blocks.
“I think we are really diverse, having two setters and two middles that can hit pretty much anything,” Goodwin said about attacking at the heart of the net. “We run a really wide-range offense, so that makes us different than other teams. So, I just try my hardest every time, go up strong and just do what I can to make sure I dominate in the middle and get blocks.”
Most high school teams rely on setting their outside pins for scoring points – partly to avoid double blocks, which are easier to construct in the middle – but the Lady Comets aren’t like most other high school teams. Their experience, talent and athleticism in the middle were the driving force all night.
In the 25-15 second set, Solon was starting to pull away with those two- and three-point runs that separate the great teams from the good teams to take a 16-12 lead, but then Lady Comet 5-foot-10 sophomore Naseem Story laid it on thick with a six-point service run for a commanding 23-12 upper hand to help put the frame away.
“She’s just a really good server,” Verchio said of the younger Story. “Her back was hurting, so she didn’t play any back row. So, she was really just focused on serving, which I think helped her. She’s one of our best servers throughout the season. I mean, we try to find a weak point, and we just go after it.”
In the 25-16 third set, Goodwin and the elder Story really paved the hardwood with five kills apiece, and Kowalski, who finished the match with 41 assists, continued to feed those two dominators.
“I would say we just really wanted to win,” Kowalski said. “We were determined and did what we had to, to win. And we really focused up on those things that we’ve done all season, and that’s what led us to win.”
And in that 25-18 fourth set, Solon sophomore libero Jenna Carrao, who finished the night with 17 digs, led the Lady Comets on a seven-point service run out of the gates to take a 7-1 lead on four Kenston hitting errors, a Kenston violation, an ace and a kill by Goodwin.
Not only did Carrao propel the Lady Comets to take control of that fourth set, but her passing was on target throughout the second, third and fourth stanzas to keep Solon’s setting in system.
“Coming into the fourth set, Kenston was probably a little frustrated,” coach Verchio said. “So, we kind of just kept the pedal on them and went after the person that was frustrated.”
Kenston battled back and cut the deficit, 14-12, but then Solon sophomore Simone Tyson and Carrao answered with short service runs to help put away the match.
With the win, Solon earned a district finals rematch against state No. 8-ranked Brecksville, according to the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association poll, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Solon.
While the Lady Bees only had one loss on their resume last season, they have five losses this year.
“All season we’ve been waiting,” the elder Story said of the opportunity. “They’re state champions, so who doesn’t want to beat them? We’re determined. We’re really excited to play them.”
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