Knights block Indians from title

COLUMBIANA–Before this season, Southern volleyball coach Bob Shansky thought his team had potential, but with the loss of three key starters from last season’s district runner-up, he did not envision the Indians taking the floor in their second straight district final.

Fast-forward a few months, and that’s exactly where the team found itself. Unfortunately for the Indians, St. Thomas Aquinas was once again waiting as a roadblock.

Second-seeded Southern hung tough for much of the first two games, but succumbed to the top-seeded Knights 25-18, 25-22, 25-11 in a Division IV district final at Columbiana High School.

“I’m extremely proud,” Shansky said. “We lost three dynamic players last year that blended this team and brought in players like Riley Felton, Hannah Hays, Siera Boyle and Maddie Paxson that hadn’t really touched a varsity ball before. For us to get back to this stage is a great moment for Southern Local. Every parent here should be proud.”

The Indians finish their season at 20-6, making it the second straight 20-win season for the program. The Knights (22-4) advance to take on Asthabula St. John in a regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Uniontown Lake High School.

“We thought we had potential, but hardly any of us believed we’d get this far,” senior setter Siera Boyle said. We knew that with a lot of teamwork, hard work and leadership we could have a good season and I think we proved that to a lot of people.”

Boyle was one of the varsity newcomers after playing on the jayvee team last season. She saw the team mold itself into a postseason contender through a lot of hours in the gym.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of scrimmages before the season for us to try and figure things out with each other,” Boyle said.

“One of the great things about these kids is they don’t mind hard work,” Shansky said. “They put in a lot of time to improve, and I have to give credit to my two great assistants who work with them all the time.”

Thursday, however, the hard-hitting Knights dictated the tempo most of the night, never allowing the Indians to sustain much offensive momentum.

Anna Sevek led the way for Southern with 10 points, five aces and seven kills. Lizzie Willis had five points and seven kills, while Boyle added six assists and Riley Felton four kills and three blocks. Maddie Paxson also had two kills.

“They swing well, they’re a good hitting team,” Shansky said. “It just wasn’t our night. They had holes, but for most of the night our passes weren’t there and our hitters could only get the ball over. I just think that we didn’t get to play our game.”

The first game was tied at 18 before the Knights reeled off seven straight points to take the victory.

Aquinas rolled to a 22-14 lead in the second game, but the Indians refused to go quietly.

Sevek got on a serving roll with four straight aces as part of an 8-2 run that pulled the Indians within two before the Knights finished off the game.

“That second game was one of the only sustained runs we had all night,” Shansky said. “We served where we needed to and got some great hits, but we couldn’t keep up our momentum.”

With the end in sight, the Knights opened up a quick 11-3 lead and had no problem polishing the Indians off in the third game.

“In the moments when we needed points either we weren’t able to make a key block or hit, or our setting would be a little off,” Boyle said.

Five of the six Southern starters from Thursday return for next season, giving the Indians plenty of hope.

Boyle is the lone starter from Thursday’s match that will not return. The Indians also lose senior Natalie May.

“We have a nice core coming back,” Shansky said. “We also had some jayvee kids that came with us and it was nice for them to see what it’s like. They saw what you can do if you work hard.”

Match notes

¯Prior to last season, it had been 14 years since the Indians had advanced to a district final.

“To go to two straight district finals, I’ll take that any day,” Shansky said. “This is a great group of kids. I’m sure the Southern community is very proud of them.”

¯It is the fourth straight district title for the Knights. Two of the wins came over Western Reserve, with the other two over Southern.