News Sports Editor
News Photo by James Andersen
Onaway’s Lexi Szymoniak, left, tips the ball over the net past Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Brittany Cherwinski during a volleyball match on Tuesday at Onaway High School.
ONAWAY-It took a while, but the Onaway volleyball team put itself in good position to repeat as Ski Valley Conference champions on Tuesday.
The Cardinals overcame some early mistakes to sweep Johannesburg-Lewiston at Onaway High School, 25-22, 25-17 and 25-17. The win leaves Onaway (37-6-3, 6-0 SV) as the lone undefeated team in the conference with two conference matches left.
"We're the only undefeated team in the conference and we've beaten some of our toughest competition so far, but we don't overlook a team like Bellaire who took Forest Area to five sets," Onaway coach Steve Watson said.
Early on, it looked like Onaway might be in for a long night against JoBurg, who used strong play at the service line to take an early lead in the opening set. Ashley May served two aces to help JoBurg open a 4-0 lead and the Cardinals stayed ahead, thanks to serve reception mistakes from Onaway. After the two teams played to a 7-7 tie, JoBurg went on a 7-1 run to take control of the set.
"They served well. They were serving really tough and we were handling their serve like we'd never seen one before or practiced it for weeks. I was a little upset about that," Watson said. "That's the reason that match was so close. We just weren't handling what they were doing on the service line."
JoBurg was able to shut down Onaway's offense early, particularly Mariah Ehrke, but eventually Onaway improved its serve reception and was helped by some offensive mistakes by JoBurg. After Julia Nieman blocked a kill attempt by Ehrke to give JoBurg a 20-17 lead, Onaway scored the next four points to take the lead for the first time. The match knotted again at 22 after a few more volleys, but Onaway closed the set with an ace from Elise Arkwood and a kill from Devin Bristley. An attack error by May gave Onaway the win.
The comeback in the first set was all the momentum Onaway needed the rest of the way. The Cardinals came out more focused in the second set while JoBurg was less effective serving and also made several errors on close plays at the net.
While JoBurg was able to stop Ehrke for a little while, Onaway's middle hitters Sara Fullerton and Lexi Szymoniak stepped up to score crucial points. Several times throughout the match, both hitters collected points with well-placed tips rather than kills.
Fullerton led Onaway offensively with 10 kills and added two aces, four digs and two blocks. Ehrke had eight kills, two aces and 15 digs. Szymoniak had seven kills, 13 digs and two blocks. Taylor Ehrke had 26 assists, two kills, two aces and 11 digs.
Onaway never trailed in the second set and seemed to get stronger with each point. JoBurg's offense struggled to find any consistency and defensively, the Cardinals had a difficult time handling attacks from so many Onaway players.
Onaway started strong to open the final set as well and Mariah helped her team's cause with an ace and a dig for a point to help the Cardinals take a 6-2 lead. JoBurg continued to give Onaway easy points on attacking errors and didn't have enough to fight Onaway until the end of the set. A late 5-1 run gave Onaway a 21-10 advantage, which was punctuated by kills from Fullerton and Mariah.
JoBurg scored seven of the next 10 points, including a five-point stretch, but it proved to be too little too late and Onaway ended the set and the match with an ace.
Conference play isn't yet over for Onaway, but the Cardinals will keep their season goals in mind when they play next Tuesday at Bellaire.
"The girls set their goals high and one of those goals is to be undefeated in the conference," Watson said. "Right now we're the only team that can do it, so hopefully we can push forward the next two weeks and make that happen."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.