July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Volleyball: Blue Devils shake off the rust in NOC defeat

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick’s volleyball team doesn’t play for moral victories, but it can take a lot away from Tuesday night’s loss to Strongsville.

After sleep-walking through the first game, the Blue Devils rallied back to push the state­ ranked Mustangs before falling 25-13, 25-27, 26-24, 25-16 in a Northeast Ohio Conference crossover contest.

Brunswick’s Laura Dick bumps the ball. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

Brunswick’s Laura Dick bumps the ball. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

It was the test the Blue Devils (9-3), who are currently leading the River Division title race, needed against the Valley Divi­sion Mustangs (13-1) – a team ranked 13th in the OHSVCA state poll.

“For the most part, when the going gets tough and we know it’s going to be against a team more experienced or bigger than us, they’ll hang and they’ll play with the best of them,” Brunswick coach Mande Pyzik said. “That’s the types of teams we’re going to see when we get deeper into the districts, so I’m so glad we got to play them.”

All it took to get the Blue Devils going was a first game in which they fell behind by 10 early and recorded just two points from the service line.

After that, Brunswick looked like the team that has won the last two River Division crowns as it recorded a hard-fought win in the second game and rallied from a six-point deficit to tie Strongsville at 24-all in Game 3 before drop­ping the next two points.

“That was the toughest team we’ve played all year,” Blue Dev­ils defensive specialist Melissa Wichie said. “At the beginning, we were timid — just like what happened in Wadsworth (a 25-16, 25-15 loss last month).

but the second game we came out and were ready and the third game was the same. I thought we played good overall.”

Wichie was one of the reasons for that as the play of Brunswick’s back row came up big. The senior recorded eight digs and libero Julianne Laughlin had a team-best 18 digs.

The Blue Devils had their hands full with hitters Shannon Jordan 14 kills) and Sarah Gootee (9), along with some proficient serving from Ashley Harker (19 points, 6 aces), but were able to bounce back in the fourth game and cut the score to 14-12 before Strongsville ended the match on an 11-2 run.

“You could tell (Witchie) was so focused. Nothing was hitting ground on her and the same thing goes for libero Julianne,” Pyzik said. “(Strongsville) had some good servers and my little back row didn’t quit on it and kept putting it back up in the air and back up in the air. I was really proud with the way they handled that type of serve receive.”

Offensively, Brunswick got a bal­anced effort as senior outside hitter Kelly Merholz slammed down 13 kills and sophomore Morgan Ritchie 11. Teammate Gabbie Bulic also was solid as the 6-foot-3 mid­dle hitter had four kills and a match-high four blocks, while set­ter Sara Szutkowski kept the offense going with 28 assists.

Although they didn’t leave with the result they wanted, the Blue Devils gained a valuable experience that could prove beneficial in next month’s Midview Division I Sec­tional/ District. “Here’s the thing: We don’t ever see stuff like that and you could clearly see in Game 1, it was like ‘Woah,’” Pyzik said. “But as soon we realized that ‘Oh, we can beat this team. We can hang with this team,’ they really came out and played.

“I really think the difference would’ve been if maybe we played a little better in Game One that maybe we would’ve gone five or ended it sooner. But they’re a great team and I’m so glad we got the opportunity to play them halfway through the season.”

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.