BRECKSVILLE — Brunswick volleyball coach Mande Pyzik’s words on the night of Sept. 27 still echo in her players’ ears.
Earlier that evening, North Royalton had eliminated the Blue Devils from the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division race with a 25-16, 23-25, 25-7, 23-25, 15-5 home win.
“She told us, ‘You guys will never get another chance to beat North Royalton. How does that make you feel?’” outside hitter Alex Fuldauer said. “Honestly, we were really mad about it, but we knew there wasn’t anything we could do to change things.”
Actually, there was, which sets up a delicious storyline for the Brecksville Division I Regional semifinals tonight at 6.
Brunswick (18-7) and North Royalton (21-4) knocked off state-ranked teams to win district championships last week, setting up an unexpected third meeting of the season.
The Bears also won their initial match on Sept. 6 by scores of 25-27, 25-19, 25-19, 25-20, which ultimately allowed them to share the NOC Valley crown with district finalists Strongsville and Solon.
“The last two times we met them, we’ve been the least confident team around, which bothered me,” Pyzik said. “That’s why I told the girls what I did after the last Royalton match. I knew we could play much better than we did, and I think this team has proven it since then.”
The Blue Devils have won nine of their last 10 matches, including sweeps of 17th-ranked Amherst Steele and 18th-ranked Avon Lake at the Midview District. This marks their first regional appearance since 1983 and equals the deepest postseason push in school history.
Middle hitters Gabrielle Bulic and Ally Badowski have powered Brunswick at the net, while libero Paige Elias has been nearly flawless in the back row for the past six weeks. Defensive specialist Allison Evans, outside hitter Morgan Ritchie and setter Megan Anderson also have been key tourney contributors.
“We always felt like this was the year we were going to get Amherst and Avon Lake,” said Bulic, a University of Michigan recruit. “Since the start of the playoffs, we haven’t had a single down moment because we’re on a mission. If we can stay up the whole match against North Royalton, I feel really good about our chances.”
It won’t be easy, as the Bears have become a perennial area power under coach Kristin Hubbell, a Brunswick resident.
Setter Nicole Fortuna plays at an elite level and is the unquestioned leader of the squad, middle hitters Natasha Medic and Rachel Krikke are 6-foot-2 blocking machines and Katie Baird and Kendra Sanelli provide power from the outside.
Their skills should be more than enough for North Royalton to overcome any nerves it has in the school’s initial regional match.
“What makes them so strong is it’s not just one person who does all the damage,” Pyzik said. “They’ve got multiple weapons in the front row and back row, and Kristin always has them playing solid and with confidence.”
A tough task awaits the winner, with second-ranked Toledo St. Ursula and seventh-ranked Findlay competing in the Bowling Green Regional semifinals tonight. The survivors will take the court Saturday at noon in the Norwalk Regional championship.
“Our focus is all on North Royalton,” Elias said. “We’re so excited to have another shot at beating them, that’s the only thing on our minds.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.