July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Blue Devils clinch first district title in volleyball in 29 years

EATON TWP. –– Mande Pyzik thought the reason Avon Lake roared to an eight-point lead in Game 1 was because her Brunswick volleyball team was spooked.

“You could see the nerves,” Pyzik said. “We were playing it safe up front. I told (the players), ‘You can’t play it safe or (Avon Lake) will crush you.’”

Brunswick’s Morgan Ritchie hits past Avon Lake’s Emily Pechaitis. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY STEVE MANHEIM)

Avon Lake did not crush the Blue Devils. The top-seeded Shoremen didn’t even beat them. Brunswick righted its ship and claimed the Midview Division I District championship 26-24, 25-21,

It wasn’t so much improved play near the net that got the Blue Devils their first district championship since 1983.

“I said if we can beat them with defense and serve receiving, we’d have a good shot,” Pyzik said. “Avon Lake has amazing hitters and dynamite blockers, so we worked a lot on serve receive and getting the ball up front fast.”

The victory lifted Brunswick (18-7) into Thursday night’s regional semifinal at Brecksville. The Blue Devils play Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division rival North Royalton at 6 p.m.

Brunswick lost to the 11th-ranked Bears twice in the regular season.

The Blue Devils’ stifling defense –– featuring 23 digs by libero Paige Elias –– enabled the offense to get on track. Gabbie Bulic, a 6-foot-4 middle hitter heading for the University of Michigan, and Ally Badowski, a freshman, led the way with 14 kills each. Morgan Ritchie added seven kills. Alex Fuldauer, playing after missing Tuesday’s semifinal because of a back injury, had all four of her kills in Game 3. Erin Anderson had 26 assists.

Brunswick also beat Avon Lake (19-6) in serving, upstaging the Shoregals at one of their strengths. The Blue Devils served 11 aces and had five bad serves. Avon Lake had four and seven.

“Our aggressive serving was a key, and our serve receiving in the past few matches has been amazing,” Bulic said. “(Back-row players) Paige (Elias) and Allison (Evans) are at the top of their games.”

Serving began Brunswick’s comeback, with Anderson serving two straight aces to make the score 13-8.

Brunswick came back to tie at 17 and 20 before an Avon Lake hitting error and a kill by Bulic made it 22-20. The Shoregals tied the score three times before Brunswick finished it on kills by Gina Yurik and Badowski.

The score was tied 14 in Game 2 before the Blue Devils ran off four straight. The Shoregals were no closer than three points after that.

A 7-2 Brunswick run made it 20-17 before Avon Lake took a 24-23 lead with three unanswered points. Kills by Badowski and Ritchie gave the Devils the upper hand. A bad serve and a hitting error finally won the match.

“We lost the match in Game 1, not Game 3,” Avon Lake coach Dan Berkheimer said. “It’s momentum, and once the momentum shifts, it’s hard to get it back. Brunswick took over, and we didn’t respond.”
Avon Lake was paced by Isabelle Wagner with 14 kills, Christine Bohan with 12 kills and Katie Mihalik with 10 kills.

Contact Steve Byrne at (440) 329-7135 or stephenbyrne@att.net.