One of the main goals of the host Norwalk Invitational set by eighth-year head volleyball coach Angie Kalizewski is for her team to see where the bar is.
With just three seniors in the rotation, a young Norwalk team went 1-2 at its eight-team tournament on Saturday — falling to Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and Parma Padua Franciscan — the two teams that have combined to win the past four state championships in Division II.
Norwalk (4-2) opened with a three-game win over Lexington, 15-25, 25-17, 25-20. It then fell to NDCL in two (25-22, 25-19) and Padua in two (25-18, 25-15).
Cleveland St. Joseph Academy — a Div. I state semifinalist a year ago — won the tournament by beating NDCL in the title game (25-11, 25-22).
“It’s a good learning experience, and that’s my goal with this, always,” Kalizewski said. “If you’re going to be able to compete at that level, you have to see it. And then you become comfortable with it, it’s no big deal and not a shock anymore.
“Especially with having such a young group, we need to expose them to that quickly,” she added. “Did I achieve my goal? Yes. Did we meet the goal I needed as far as individual matches,? No. But we will get better.”
Against Lexington, Aimee Smith was 22-of-24 hitting with 11 kills, with Claire Kelley going 24-of-26 with eight kills. Carly Bilton, Olivia Ward and Delaney Thomas each added four kills, with Elyse Balduff serving nine points and three aces.
Also for Norwalk, Alaina Kelley was 87-of-88 setting with 32 assists, while Anne Davidson had 25 digs and Ward added 15.
“That to me was a typical 9 a.m match,” Kalizewski said of the lone win. “Started slow, had to figure it out. But I have to be proud — they worked hard and fought through being down.
“That kind of seems to be our pattern right now, we’d like to change that, but they never gave up,” she added. “The whole time they kept pushing and trying to use what we do and stick with it.”
In the loss to NDCL — the state champions of 2014 and 2015 — Smith had six kills and Bilton added four. Alaina Kelley was 44-of-45 with nine assists; served five points and had 13 digs. Haleigh Skinner added five points and Ward had eight digs.
“We played really well, we played with them at a high level,” Kalizewski said. “Then it comes down to experience and the ability to close. So again, am I sad we lost? Of course. But am I disappointed? No.
“To compete with them, they have that experience of being at state and we don’t,” she added. “I have kids who were competing with them, and that’s a good thing. It gives us sights to know we’re going to get there.”
In the loss to Padua, last year’s state champions, Smith and Thomas each had five kills. Ward had five points with three aces and seven digs, while Davidson had 23 digs. Alaina Kelley was 60-of-60 setting with 15 assists.
Norwalk beat Padua at last year’s Invite, but were swept in the regional championship match later in the season. It was the third regional title match in a five-year stretch between the two teams, with two wins going to the Bruins.
“When you play a team that many times, it becomes a complex on both sides,” Kalizewski said. “And we have enough inexperience that it got to them. You could see it. And that is OK. That tells us what we need to do and what the game plan is from here.”
Norwalk has just one match this week — a Sandusky Bay Conference Lake division pairing against Perkins at home on Tuesday. Dating back to the Northern Ohio League, Norwalk has won 70 straight league matches.
“Not the outcome we wanted, but overall we will take it,” Kalizewski said of Saturday. “We need them to get a lot better each time out, and they did. We’ll get there.”