ELYRIA — Open Door went full Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in its regular-season finale against Wickliffe on Monday night.
Luckily for the Patriots, the good doctor showed up when it counted most in the fifth and final set as they pulled out a 16-25, 25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 15-13 win to improve to 15-4 heading into the Lake Erie Conference Tournament on Saturday.
The Patriots were without Haley Gsellmeier, their big hitter, who was out with an illness — and it showed in the opening set.
The Blue Devils (12-9) took advantage of eight Patriots unforced errors and four aces to race out to a 20-9 lead, leaving Open Door looking for answers and a workable lineup.
“I didn’t even know who that team was in the first set,” Open Door coach Dan Stintsman said. “Once they tasted a defeat like that in the first set, they really kicked it in and started to play much smarter volleyball. It’s not always about hitting the ball the hardest, it’s about finding spots and getting the other team off-balance. The girls responded with a great effort.”
The Patriots leaned on junior Maddie Stintsman to get their act together and win the next two sets. Stintsman picked up five kills, three aces and a pair of block-kills to help will Open Door to a 2-1 lead.
“It’s heart-breaking to hear that one of the people you rely on is out,” Coach Stintsman said of Gsellmeier. “It’s very stressful, and to be honest, I was scared about what would happen tonight. I’m so proud of my girls, they handled the ups and downs so well. We showed a lot of strength, perseverance and courage tonight as a team.”
The Patriots were in position to finish the match in four sets, leading 19-18, but Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head as Open Door gave the set away with five unforced errors during a 7-2 Wickliffe run. Katelyn Nemeth and Bridget Burkett added kills to send the match to a fifth and final set.
The teams were tied at 11 after the Blue Devils’ Samantha Telisman put down a tip-kill, but a Wickliffe service error gave the Patriots just enough breathing room to pull out the win as the Blue Devils added a ballhanding error for a 14-11 Open Door lead.
Two hitting errors cut the lead to 14-13, but Stintsman came up with the match-clinching kill to finish off the five-set roller coaster.
“It’s probably taken me a lot of years to be able to take a set like that first one and forget about it to keep playing hard,” said senior setter Emily Ford, who added 27 assists to the school-record career total she set last week. “You have to be able to focus on the positives and forget about the negatives when the night starts that way.
“The start certainly wasn’t the best we played this year, but the way we finished might be the best we’ve pulled together when we needed it the most.”
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
KILLS: (W) Olivia Clark 9, Kelly Ponzani 9; (OD) Maddie Stintsman 14, Jasmine Brooks 6, Kayla Fox 5
ASSISTS: (OD) Emily Ford 27
DIGS: (OD) Hanna Otero 23, Stintsman 21, Ford 17
ACES: (W) Katelyn Nemeth 3, Samantha Telisman 3; (OD) Fox 5, Stintsman 4, Otero 2
BLOCK-KILLS: (W) Clark 1, Telisman 1; (OD) Brooks 2, Stintsman 2.