PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio – Glance at the digits and dashes of a volleyball line score, and they come across like an intricate solution to a combination lock. Or like lines of code: 25-15, 14-25, 25-16, 19-25, 15-10. [box]
On Thursday night at Holy Name, those were the numbers that clicked the tumblers into place for Rocky River Volleyball cracking a code it’s been trying to break since August: how to defeat the Holy Name Green Wave and earn a shot at a Pirate conference title for the first time since the Reagan Administration.
In a thrilling, see-saw battle between two teams that have separated themselves as the class of the Great Lakes Conference this season, Rocky River (17-4, 10-1 GLC) did indeed solve the riddle of a Holy Name team that had beaten them twice already in 2017. The Pirates, on the road and without momentum after a win by the Green Wave in the fourth set, prevailed in set No. 5 and won the match, 3-2.
“We lost that fourth set, but it was our defense in the fifth that swung momentum back in our favor,” said Head Coach Karlee Bruck. “The girls fed off each other and created a tremendous energy; they used that as fuel to pull ahead and finish strong.”
And finishing strong could well be a phrase used to describe Rocky River’s late-season surge. With Thursday’s victory, the Pirates have now won eight matches in a row and 11 of their last 12.
The freshest of those victories came against a Holy Name squad that topped River, 2-0, in the title match of the Rocky River Invitational on Sept. 9; a Holy Name squad that followed that up three days later with a 3-2 victory over the Pirates, again at the corner of Wagar & Detroit; a Holy Name squad that until last night had been 4-2 against Rocky River since the two schools became GLC foes in 2015.
“We knew coming in this would be a tough match,” said Bruck.
It was a match that saw the Pirates get eight digs or more from six players. Raygan Murray had 28 digs and Marissa Smiley added 16. Callie Cmiel logged 14 digs against just one error. Cmiel had 52 assists in running the River offense.
Junior middle hitter Ava Rauser collected a team-high 16.5 net points (23K-4A-2.5B-13E) on a night that saw the Pirates hit .198.
And with those performances, the Pirates cracked the code on how to defeat the Green Wave. And that sets up Rocky River for a shot at something unseen on Detroit Road since 1986 – a conference championship. River has one contest remaining, a road match at Normandy on Tuesday. A win would garner at least a share of the circuit crown.
One more lock to open. Perhaps with deft precision. But maybe yet again like it was in an emotionally charged fifth frame on Thursday – with buccaneer bolt-cutters and some Pirate swagger for leverage.
CANNON FIRE …
NOTABLE: Rocky River and Holy Name have now gone to five sets in 4-of-7 meetings since 2015. The Pirates have played in two five-set matches this season; both were against the Green Wave.
QUOTABLE: “This was a massive team effort tonight. Everyone contributed to tonight’s win. I’m incredibly proud of the patience, tenacity and mental toughness the team displayed.” – Karlee Bruck
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