FAIRBORN: The drive south along I-675 on the way to the Nutter Center at Wright State University is one Jeff Walck never tires of experiencing. It’s a view he wanted to make sure his Jackson volleyball team embraced.
The Polar Bears will get to embrace that ride one more time after beating Chagrin Falls Kenston in four games 25-9, 25-20, 31-33, 25-11 in the Division I state semifinals Thursday night. Jackson started strong and finished that way to improve to 28-1 and earn its spot in the final against Cincinnati Ursuline Academy (22-6).
Jackson is ranked No. 3 in the final state coaches’ poll, and Ursuline is No. 6. The Lions beat second-ranked Toledo St. Ursula 27-25, 20-25, 25-20, 25-17 in Thursday’s first semifinal.
Senior Paige Hill had 19 kills and converted 42.1 percent of her attacks as well as blocked four shots to lead Jackson’s potent attack. Sophomore Stephanie Spencer had 15 kills and junior Jen Slogar added 11. Senior setter Kristin Cardwell had 49 assists, and senior libero Laura Kelly had 22 of Jackson’s 59 digs.
Walck led Tallmadge to six state tournament berths during his 14-year tenure from 1989-2002. He and the Blue Devils had the misfortune of running into Cincinnati St. Ursula in five of those six years, including four consecutive championship match defeats, but the first thing he did Monday was bring pictures of the 11,500-seat arena to practice.
“I couldn’t wait until we came down 675 and turned down the road so these guys could see the building,” Walck said. “I think they were relaxed. Everyone has anxiety and I know they had anxiety — I was squeezing my butt cheeks together — but we have been talking about this.”
Jackson was hot from the start, scoring the first four points of the match and jumping out to an 8-1 lead before Kenston coach Danny Coughlin called a timeout. The lead was 15-4 when Coughlin had to burn his second and final timeout of the game. The second game was closer but Jackson was one game away from the title match.
Kenston took its first lead of the match by winning the first point of the third game. The Bombers had a 17-12 lead before Jackson responded with a 5-0 run to even the score. From that point neither team led by more than two points, and the score was tied 14 times. Kenston got the win on its seventh attempt with an ace by Melissa Landsman.
Jackson regrouped and took control of the fourth game with a 6-0 run to grab an 8-2 lead.
“Playing from behind so much and putting forth so much energy, and it took so much energy to win Game 3, there’s a very good possibility that by the time for Game 4 no matter how much we wanted it or no matter what we did we were running out of gas mentally, not physically,” Coughlin said.
Jackson converted 17-of-29 attacks in the fourth game to close out the match.
“I just wanted to stay focused on every point,” Hill said. “I knew they were still going to give us their best shot but I think we got more emotional about the game. We played with higher energy and that’s what took us to the win.”
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