The Keystone Division II District has been dominated by the Patriot Athletic Conference in recent years.
This fall, however, defending champion Buckeye is the lone PAC squad left. The other three district qualifiers hail from the West Shore Conference.
That sets up an interesting pair of district semifinals tonight. No. 1 seed Bay (21-2) takes on Avon (12-12) at 6 p.m., while the second-seeded Bucks (20-2) meet Rocky River (15-8) at approximately 7:30 p.m.
“This is what makes tournaments so great, not knowing who is going to show up to play on any night,” Buckeye coach Brianne Indorf said. “It’s a brand new season, as we are all playing to be practicing tomorrow. Regular season records don’t matter anymore and we all have a new start.”
The Bucks and WSC champion Rockets cruised into the final four at the site, as expected, but the Eagles and Pirates were major surprises.
Seventh-seeded Avon shocked the No. 4 host Wildcats in four games, while sixth seed Rocky River upset No. 3 Brookside in four.
Both came in the sectional finals and saw the WSC gain bragging rights — at least temporarily — over the PAC.
“I’m not really surprised by many things as you can’t get wrapped up in why a team won or lost,” said Indorf, whose team is one of just 19 in Medina County history to win 20 matches in a season. “I would have guessed, though, that Keystone would still be playing after how tough they played us last week.
“But due to some injuries and illnesses on their team, they fell short — and Avon came to win and took it from them.”
Buckeye boasts a number of players with big-match experience — topped by senior outside hitter Samantha Mueller, junior setter Alexa Weiland, and senior libero Amelia Shaw — the Pirates are relatively inexperienced in terms of the OHSAA Tournament.
Rocky River does, however, have a 1-2 sibling punch that devastated the Cardinals last week.
Maeve Kessler, a senior, and junior Ciera Kessler combined for 46 kills against Brookside. Setter Meggie Kraicer only had 51 assists, showing just how reliant the Pirates are on their middle hitters.
“They’re our go-to kids and when we’re passing well, we can get the ball to them as much as we want,” Rocky River coach Kelly Bennett said. “They’re big, they’re athletic, they can hit over people, and they really just put the ball down for us.”
The Bucks, of course, also have size and skill in the middle with senior Lexi Wredberg and junior Krystin Estes. They racked up 33 kills against Keystone and have frequently topped 25 together in the second half of the season.
As Indorf noted, though, it takes a true team effort to win any match at this point of the tournament.
“We have to do what we’ve done best all year, which is to use variety in our attack and challenge our opponent on who will get the ball next,” the winningest coach in Buckeye history said. “But our main focus needs to be placed on our serve receive and our defense. If we serve receive well and block, we will be a very hard team to beat.”
There have been no surprises at the Barberton Division I District, where the top four seeds all advanced to tonight’s action.
Undefeated North Canton Hoover (23-0) plays Massillon Perry (16-6) at 6 p.m., followed by defending district kingpin Wadsworth (21-2) taking on Massillon Jackson (20-3).
The Vikings are the top seed, followed by the Polar Bears, Suburban League champion Grizzlies and the Panthers.
While no one expects Hoover to be tested by Perry, Wadsworth and Jackson should be a dandy. The Polar Bears’ only losses came against Hoover (twice) and West Holmes, while the Grizzlies fell to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit and Perry.
Adding to the intrigue, Wadsworth beat Jackson in the 2009 Barberton District final, 25-15, 25-8, 14-25, 25-21.
“We need to serve tough and maintain our blocking,” Grizzlies coach Jill Quayle said. “(Outside hitter) Julie Bassett, (middle hitter) Rachel Jones and (setter) Sarah White are essential components in winning, and I do believe that our middles match up very well.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.
VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT INFO
Barberton Division I District Semifinals: North Canton Hoover (23-0) vs. Massillon Perry (16-6) at 6 p.m.; WADSWORTH (21-2) vs. Massillon Jackson (20-3) at 7:30 p.m.
Championship match: Thursday at 6 p.m.
Winner to: Hudson Regional
Keystone Division II Semifinals: Bay Village Bay (21-2) vs. Avon (12-12) at 6 p.m.; BUCKEYE (20-2) vs. Rocky River (15-8) at 7 p.m.
Championship match: Thursday at 7 p.m.
Winner to: Stow Regional