Joes-Lake volleyball 1

Avon Lake came into its Division I district final against St. Joseph Academy riding a hot streak of sorts, winning three straight tournament matches prior to the Oct. 30 showdown in Parma.

Coming off big playoff wins against Brunswick and Avon – against whom Avon Lake was a combined 0-3 during the regular season – the Shoregals volleyball team was riding a hot hand entering its district final match against St. Joseph Academy on Saturday. 

That hot hand was on display throughout the match as the Shoregals, the 14-seed in the Division I Northeast 5 district, made the Jaguars, the first seed in the district, work for every point. 

But in the end, the Jaguars tenacious offense was too much for the Shoregals to overcome as St. Joseph came away with the three set win, 25-16, 25-19, 28-26. 

And while the end to the season was not what Avon Lake players and coaches had hoped for, the fight it put up throughout the playoffs gave a glimpse of what this team is capable of moving forward. 

“The girls have learned how to work together, work as a team, trust each other (and) know that the person next to them is going to be there for them,” Avon Lake coach Shana Miocinovic said. “It’s not just a physical growth, it’s absolutely a mental growth, a mental toughness change and challenge that we had to challenge them on.”

Senior libero Kai Rybarczyk said coming into the playoffs, they knew their intensity had to reach a new level. 

“We knew (playoffs) were going to be a challenge,” Rybarczyk said. “We knew we had to come out strong because we’re a much different team than we were in the beginning.”

Now that she and her fellow seniors – Shaylynn McArthur, Olivia Murtaugh and Alexandria Levicki – have played their last game as Shoregals, Rybarczyk couldn’t be happier with the standard and legacy this group is leaving behind. 

“In the beginning, it was a whole new team and a whole new coaching staff,” Rybarczyk said. “It was kind of a challenge but we all were open to it and I think we did a good job. … We definitely have set a good legacy. With the new coach, she said we have to change our legacy from the past and I think we did a good job.” 

Miocinovic said the one quality that has defined the team throughout the season is the mental toughness her team showed during given matches. 

Against the Jaguars, the Shoregals held small leads during the first two sets but slipped behind on quick SJA’s  runs. In the third, however, Avon Lake jumped out to a demanding 11-4 lead in the third set and carried all the momentum. 

As in the first two sets, however, the Jaguars slowly, but surely, chipped away with small runs until the set was tied at 17-17. With SJA ahead 24-20 and a point away from sealing the match, the Shoregals fought back the set at 24 and forced a win-by-two scenario. 

After several back-and-forth points, St. Joes eventually put away the set and the match on consecutive kills. 

“(We) really (wanted to take) care of the ball, cover for each other and come out with a lot of energy,” SJA coach Kate Latkovic said.

Latkovic praised her team’s senior leadership for helping deliver this victory. 

“Our seniors have been leading this group all year long,” Latkovic said. “They have everybody’s back for these big moments.”

One of those seniors, Kirsten Barrett, did it all for the Jaguars Saturday. On the front line, she assisted on nearly all of St. Joes points and, at times, did it herself making both big swings and recording several kills on tips over the net early in possessions. 

“Our team gels so well,” Barrett said. “We had practice earlier in the morning and we knew it right from the start. One of our parents came in and talked to us and gave us this really great message, (he said) ‘You can either shy away or you can go in and kill it.’ Taking that message, going right in from the start and kind of punching them in the face helped us.” 

Next up for the Jaguars is a regional semifinal contest against Perrysburg at 7:30 p.m. at Norwalk High School. Latkovic said a key to making to the regional final is maintaining the energy they had against Avon Lake. 

“We definitely want to carry over playing as a team and playing for each other as a team,” Latkovic said. 

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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