Story By Mike Holzheimer
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Magnificat volleyball coach Mike Cannon likes what he sees from his team. The biggest thing Cannon likes, though, is the fact that his squad is getting healthy enabling him to put all of the pieces together on the court of play.
The Blue Streaks weathered the storm of injuries at the outset of the 2013 campaign, and are now putting it all together in terms of securing some well-deserved victories. One of those hard-fought wins came Thursday night, with Magnificat sweeping Olmsted Falls in three sets, 25-14, 25-17, 25-23.
"We are starting to play better as a team," noted Cannon. "Everybody is back on the floor contributing in big ways. We saw that tonight against a very good Olmsted Falls team."
Indeed. With the match tied at 3-3 in the first set, Magnificat went on a 5-0 run led by the serving of senior defensive specialist Shannon Grega. But it was the solid and aggressive play of senior Michaela Gabanic, whose strong returns over the net pushed the home team's early advantage out to 8-3.
The visiting Bulldogs never really got close in the opening set, with the tempo being set very early in favor of Magnificat.
"We wanted to play fast," said Cannon, who saw his Blue Streaks improve their overall record to 10-5. "Our substitution pattern proved to work in our favor. We had to keep the pressure on Olmsted Falls."
Junior outside hitter Kelly Sullivan was applying enough pressure to the tune of seven kills in that first-game victory. Sophomore outside hitter Christina Cotton came up with key blocks at the net, as did teammate Sheila Cooney, a junior middle blocker.
Olmsted Falls junior setter Jordan Jaeckin had two critical points in that first set, including a well-executed "dink" pass just getting over the net for a Bulldog point. But just when it appeared Olmsted Falls would make a run, Magnificat answered with great defense from the back row.
The visitors, however, would respond in game two, leading, 8-4 as sophomore middle/outside hitter Lexi Lombardo came up with some timely points. Senior defensive specialist Morgan Reiser served a couple of aces to allow her team to hold that four-point advantage on the scoreboard.
The Blue Streaks, though, kept their composure and would tie the score at 11-11 thanks to a great return over the net by Cotton, while Gabanic's blocking was providing more than enough momentum for the home team.
Momentum? How about an impressive 7-0 run by Magnificat, with senior defensive specialist Megan Grace "serving" up that momentous effort and leading the Blue Streaks toward a commanding lead of 20-12.
Cannon's team, needing just two points to take a 2-0 lead in the match, got just that. Sullivan slammed home a winner between two Olmsted Falls defenders, while junior defensive specialist Molly McCool served up the 25th and decisive point.
"Our serve-receives were good tonight," said Cannon. "Olmsted Falls really made us work hard and work for everything we got."
That was certainly evident in game three, with the action going back-and-forth at a fever pitch.
Olmsted Falls' Kerri Gasper, a junior outside hitter, was becoming a strong presence on the court for head coach Dawn Moses' team. Gasper was helping to ignite a power surge by the Lady Bulldogs with two points and two kills to give the visitors a lead of 10-6.
Senior libero Kate Ferster was on the attack with two service points, but the Magnificat team seemingly had an answer for every run engineered by the Bulldogs.
The Blue Streaks tied the game at 11-11 following a hard smash over the net by Sullivan, while Gasper had a huge block at the net pulling Olmsted Falls to within two at 13-11. Lombardo had an even bigger block, while Davison helped to ignite a 4-0 run by the visitors.
A Lombardo ace from the serving line tied the third set at 20-20. A shot by Magnificat's Sullivan went just outside the line, allowing the Bulldogs to take 21-20 lead. It appeared Olmsted Falls was ready to secure those final four points to extend the match.
Magnificat, though, had other ideas. Gabanic's shot - with the assist coming from senior Claire Lambert - tied the game again at 21-21. Then Cooney's winning return at the net gave Magnificat a lead (22-21) it would never lose.
Olmsted Falls' Gasper's winning return cut it to 24-23, but Cotton delivered the match-ending shot to preserve the three-game sweep and subsequent Blue Streak victory.
Magnificat travels to the Mentor Invitational Tournament on Saturday with an opening round match against Kenston scheduled for 10 a.m. A match against Mentor to follow later in the day.
Olmsted Falls, now 10-5 overall and 8-2 in Southwestern Conference play, travels to Elyria on Saturday for a 9 a.m. match.
(You can follow Mike Holzheimer on Twitter @MikeHolzheimer. Follow our website @BeAFanatic)