One of the most aggressive serving programs in the state, Gilmour Academy volleyball should have a good handle on its serve receive with plenty of practice at its home gym.
But the Lady Lancers saw a 10-1 lead dissipate at the hands of an out-of-system first touch during their Division II district championship match against Kenston on Saturday afternoon at their home court in Gates Mills.
Gilmour entered the match with the top seed in the district, a No. 5 ranking in the state coaches poll and an 18-6 record, while the No. 2-seed Lady Bombers also came in at 18-6 with four of their losses coming against ranked opponents and the other two against league foe Riverside, which captured a Division I district crown.
The Lady Lancers were the favorites to defend their district title, but Kenston put on a nine-point serving run to tie the opening frame, 10-10.
“I had to rearrange our serve receive,” said Gilmour fifth-year head coach Danny Coughlin, who coached Kenston to its only Division I state final-four appearance in 2012, before moving to take on an assistant role to brother Kelly Coughlin at Gilmour the following season.
“I moved around some personnel, threw a person in, and I probably did it a little later than I should have,” he said. “However, I’m a big fan of girls kind of getting out of their own funk, but it wasn’t happening. So, as soon as I made those changes, we took that first set, 25-19.”
The Lady Lancers didn’t leave anything to doubt thereafter, as they went on to win a three-set sweep, 25-19, 25-16, 25-13, for their 13th district title in the past 14 seasons, with the exception being an upset loss against Beaumont in 2017.
“The final two sets were pretty much what the scores dictated,” Coughlin said. “But Kenston’s one outside hitter is a really good server. She knew where to stay away from, and she found a chink in the fence and went after it. So, it was a big game, we were still in that calm-down mode, and they took advantage of that service run in the first set, when the juices are still flowing.”
Once the Gilmour girls settled in, they had five hitters take over the net with 43 kills, including a team-high 15 put-downs by 6-foot-1 sophomore outside hitter Kathryn Randorf, who was near perfect on just 17 attempts.
Also, leading the Lady Lancers’ attack, 6-foot freshman Anna Rarick had eight kills, 5-foot-10 junior middle Brinn MacLellan had seven kills, 5-foot-10 junior Jocelyn Carter had seven kills, and 6-foot junior middle Caroline Rarick had six kills. Junior setter Ava Nestor was the beneficiary with 39 assists.
“That was one of our best overall games,” Coughlin said. “We just had too many weapons, and I think that’s what Kenston wasn’t used to, was the amount of hitters we have all over the place.”
Gilmour started out the season in a six-two system with the younger Rarick splitting setting duties with Nestor, but the Lady Lancers now run a typical five-one rotation with sophomore hitter Brooke Clair, a transfer from Walsh Jesuit, having to sit the second half of the season to abide by Ohio High School Athletic Association bylaws.
In Clair’s absence, Coughlin called upon the younger Rarick to be a full-time hitter.
“We needed to do it more out of a need, not want,” the coach said. “We needed another hitter. So, it hurt a little bit to lose a hitter, because Brooke (Clair) was a big piece to the puzzle, but we’re figuring out ways around it. We’ve missed her from midseason on.”
Whatever the Lady Lancers lost in offense, they’ve made up for with the blocking efforts of three 6-footers and a pair of 5-foot-10 juniors, as well as the back-row efforts of junior libero Emmy Klika, who finished with 21 digs, and a pair of freshmen defensive specialists in Laney Klika and Rylyn Anderson, who had 11 digs apiece against Kenston.
Carter finished with a team-high five assisted blocks, while Randorf had four solos and the elder Rarick had three.
“Well, defense is blocking and digging,” Coughlin said. “Our blockers do a fantastic job of making sure opponents go somewhere they don’t want to be, and we funnel everything we can into Emmy (Klika). And Emmy does what Emmy does. You know, Emmy digs balls. So, if people want to challenge our blockers, where we’re blocking, they get one of two choices: they get a high block, or they get Emmy.”
Although Gilmour struggled with its serve receive early, the Lady Lancers turned the table to collect 14 aces in the match, including four apiece from the Klika sisters.
While the Lady Lancers cruised to defending their district title, their success comes without a senior in the starting rotation. Junior MacLellan has taken on the vocal leadership role, while junior co-captain Klika leads by example, Coughlin said.
Up next, Gilmour will take on Division II state No. 1-ranked Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin (18-7) in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.
During its district title game, NDCL defeated state No. 4-ranked Lake Catholic, 21-25, 25-15, 19-25, 26-24, 15-12.
Three of Gilmour’s six losses in the regular season came against those two programs, including a 3-1 loss against NDCL, 25-17, 27-25, 23-25, 26-24, on Sept. 10, when the Lady Lancers had 55 kills to NDCL’s 41 but still lost the match.
“We had played Lake and NDCL soon after we lost Brooke (Clair),” Coughlin said. “So, we had gone through 11 different lineups, and we played Lake and NDCL while we were looking for a lineup.
“So, I would say we’re comfortable with the lineup we have now, and it is not what we’ve been doing. We’ve only been at this lineup for the past two weeks, and it’s been clicking really well for us. And it took some time, because I usually find a lineup in the summer and stick with it.”
Gilmour is still the underdog, but Coughlin said he likes where his girls stand entering regional play against NDCL.
The winner will face either No. 13-ranked Canfield (20-5) or St. Vincent-St. Mary (14-12) in the regional title game at 2 p.m. Saturday in Stow.