“This group has to be relaxed,” St. Paul coach Nancy Miller said. “It seems like the more businesslike they are, the tighter they play. It’s a group that has to have their laughs and have their fun.”
But one couldn’t tell the difference on the floor, as it was all business for the Lady Flyers in a three-game sweep of Firelands Conference foe South Central in a Division IV district semifinal Tuesday night at Willard High School.
St. Paul won by scores of 25-10, 25-4, 25-18. The No. 4-ranked Lady Flyers are back in Thursday’s 7 p.m. district title match vs. No. 6 Buckeye Central (23-1).
Miller had made a point to get a message across to her team about being more focused prior to Tuesday’s match.
St. Paul jumped out to a quick 15-7 lead in Game 1 thanks to a dominant display by Tess Lepley at the net. Meghan Hedrick and Kamryn Maxwell both added kills and an ace from Lauren Chandler pushed the lead out to 19-9 and it was a formality from there.
Game 2 was machine-like precision by St. Paul. It scored the first nine points of the match, and it was 17-2 because of an unforced error on a serve by the time the Trojans (14-11) realized what had hit them.
The 25-4 win is as lopsided of a score as one will see in a district level match and South Central head coach Daren Walcher knew his team had a deer in headlights mentality they were fighting.
“Absolutely,” Walcher said. “At least for us, this is a big stage and you come against one of the top teams in the state here … Coach Miller has those girls machine-like. They are fantastic.
“And so it takes a little bit longer for us to adjust, simply because we’re size-limited as compared to what they have,” he added. “So it took us a bit, but then in that third set I felt like we had our feet under us and made our adjustments for a much better set.”
Facing the possible end of the season, the Trojans were spirited in Game 3. They got their first lead of the match (3-2) and were tied at 8 after a Jenna West kill.
It was still just a 20-15 deficit after a West kill and an unforced error by St. Paul. However, the Lady Flyers got back-to-back kills from Hedrick and Holly Powers, and Lepley finished it off with a huge hit in the 25-18 win.
“Daren was going to have his kids in a position to come back strong, we knew they weren’t going to give up by any stretch,” Miller said. “I thought South Central did a good job battling in that game, but I thought our kids came up with some really nice kills that put the game away for us.”
For St. Paul, Lepley finished with an impressive 18 kills and four blocks, while Hedrick was strong across the board with 10 kills, 10 digs, nine points and two aces. Maxwell had eight kills, 10 points and two aces, while Chandler had 13 points with two aces and 15 digs.
Also for the Lady Flyers, Rachel Bleile had 41 assists and Claire Spettel added nine digs.
For South Central, West and Ally Burton each had five kills, while Sarah Oney had 15 digs and Maddie Albert had 14 digs and five assists.
“For my senior core, I think they realized that it may be their last set they will ever play, and it’s in a district match against St. Paul,” Walcher said of Game 3. “When they focused on that side of it, then they came back in earnest.
“I’m extremely proud of the team effort this year, especially with our lack of size,” he added. “Just proud of their passion they brought, and they wanted to play in this match and to play St. Paul one more time — and to me that says a lot.”
As for Thursday, it will hardly be unfamiliar territory for St. Paul and B.C. to meet as top 10 teams. It will be the 12th time in a 17-year stretch at the district level between the two programs.
“Buckeye is playing some of their best ball of the season right now, so we’re going to have to step it up another notch on Thursday,” Miller said.