Ayersville earned a trip to regionals as the Pilots defeated Cardinal Stritch in four sets (25-16, 16-25, 25-11, 25-11) in Division IV district final volleyball at Defiance High School's "Dawg Pound" on Thursday night.
"We practiced really hard yesterday, we had watched them play and they definitely came out here determined," said Ayersville coach Julie Gustwiller. "I honestly don't think it mattered what team was on the other side of the court, these girls were determined to win districts."
Ayersville (22-4) set the tone early with a dominant front-court attack led by Kaleigh Hug, Kaleigh Martin and Kayla Zachrich. The trio combined with 13 unforced errors by the Cardinals (15-11) helped Ayersvile win the first set 25-16.
But Stritch seemed determined in game two as the Cardinals bounced back quickly and got some help by 14 Pilot errors to take the game 25-16.
After the letdown in game two, Gustwiller rallied her team during the break.
"I think it came down to regrouping and refocusing them," she said. "They (Stritch) came out and had some great service and hitters, that was their game. I reminded them, 'that we're here to win, that's one game and it's back to split and anybody can take it.' They refocused and came back out determined. "
Game three started close again with both teams knotted at two before a kill by Zachrich seemed to kick Ayersville's offense into a new gear as the Pilot's never trailed again. Ahead 9-5, the Pilots utilized their outside hitters to score the next 16 points, 10 coming on kills. During that stretch Arica Rohn contributed with three kills, Zachrich added three, Martin added two kills while Hug and Emily Cramer added one each to seal the 25-11 victory in game three.
Sensing that they were one victory away from a regional berth, the Pilots began game four right where the previous one had left off. Two early kills by Cramer and a number of sloppy errors by Stritch put the Cardinals in a hole early at 10-2. Following a timeout by Stritch coach Stephen Boston, Ayersville began one final display of scoring as 10 of the next 15 points came on kills, including three each by Martin and Cramer and two each by Zachrich and Rohn to seal the 25-11 victory.
"I think momentum is huge in volleyball and just believing in yourself as a team," admitted Gustwiller. "Once you have a team that believes they can do it it's hard to stop anyone and that just happened to be us today."
Zachrich led the Pilots with 21-23 serving with three aces, 25-26 passing, nine digs, five blocks, 23-25 hitting with 10 kills while Hug added 15-17 serving, 16-19 passing, seven digs, 27-30 hitting with 10 kills.
Overall, Gustwiller was happy with her outside hitters performance on the night.
"We depend on our outside hitters a lot but sometimes the pressure gets to them," she said. "Sometimes that pass or dig wasn't there which meant the set wasn't there either and it throws everything off. But that's where we refocused and when we can pass well, we can hit well."
Sara Turner-Smith paced the Cardinals with 12 kills while Carly Cannon added four and Missy Cobb had three blocks.
Ayersville will now head to Elida Fieldhouse on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the regional semifinals to face Norwalk St. Paul after it defeated Monroeville 25-13, 25-20, 25-22.
The Pilots will make their third appearance at regionals, their first since 2003 after falling in the regional finals and reaching the semifinals in 2001.
"Right now I'm going to let them enjoy this moment, take a little break and recoup," concluded. Gustwiller. "Then we'll come back Monday and start preparing for regionals."
Ayersville def. Stritch, 25-16, 16-25, 25-11, 25-11
Ayersville (22-3) - Kayla Zachrich 21-23 serving, 3 aces, 25-26 passing, 9 digs, 5 blocks, 23-25 hitting, 10 kills; Kaleigh Hug 15-17 serving, 16-19 passing, 7 digs, 27-30 hitting, 10 kills; Kaleigh Martin 10-11 serving, 7-7 passing, 28-30 hitting, 10 kills; Amanda Cook 15-15 serving, 21-22 passing, 9 digs, 100-103 setting, 35 assists; Arica Rohn 4-4 serving, 12-13 passing, 17-17 hitting, 6 kills, 9-9 setting, 3 assists; Stephanie Fishpaw 5-6 passing, 3 digs; Nikki Schroeder 8-8 serving, 10-10 passing, 3 digs; Emily Cramer 11-11 serving, 30-31 passing, 12 digs, 31-30 hitting, 13 kills.
Stritch (15-11) - Sara Turner-Smith 12 kills; Carly Cannon 4 kills; Missy Cobb 3 blocks.