CORTLAND_St. John senior Reilly DeGeorge grew up watching her sister, Kayla, and the rest of the Heralds volleyball team fell foe after foe on its way to the Division IV regional tournament. She wanted that experience for her own. Following a 25-9, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19 victory over Lordstown in the Division IV district championship match at Lakeview High School, the younger DeGeorge can say she has achieved that goal.
“It means the world to me,” an emotional DeGeorge said. “My sister and her team won the district (in 2007, the last time St. John was in the regional). All I’ve wanted was this for a long while now. I’m so excited. I’m just ecstatic. We’ve worked really hard for this.”
The Heralds (23-3) will play the Medina district winner in a regional semifinal at Solon High School on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It’s the Heralds’ first trip to the regional tournament since 2007.
“It feels so good,” St. John coach Stephanie Kubec said. “It feels phenomenal just having us win. I went up and gave a hug to Mike Gardiner because the last time he coached, we went to the regional. It felt so good to have him in the house.”
The Red Devils (16-5) knew they were facing long odds entering the match, but were going to go down fighting.
“We felt we were the underdogs,” Lordstown setter Erica Knox, the only senior on the squad, said. “We knew what we had to do and we did it to the best of our ability.
“Absolutely (I’m happy with the way we played). We left it all out there (on the floor).”
“They knew this was it,” Lordstown coach Jeanann Applegate said. “They knew they had to give everything they had tonight. I’m massively proud of them.”
The way the night started, it might have been easy to write the Red Devils off. Reilly DeGeorge had six kills and the Heralds had six ace serves.
“I honestly think it was nerves,” Applegate said. “We knew St. John was tough. I think there was some nervousness going into the game. We calmed down, started passing better and had better hits.”
“They just ran their offense really well,” Knox said. “They just put the ball away.”
The Red Devils recovered just in time to open the second game strong. Two kills from Kellee Applegate and an uncharacteristic run of St. John miscues had Lordstown in front, 6-1. The Heralds fought back to knot the score at 17-17 following a kill from DeGeorge.
A kill from DeGeorge, an ace from Molly Powers and a kill from Mallory Schellenberger gave the Heralds a 20-18 lead. Kills from Josie Toporcer and Alexis Weekley and two St. John miscues had the Red Devils back in front, 23-20. Toporcer’s kill made it 24-21 and later, she added another to even the match at one game each.
“I could not be any more proud of them than I was in the second game,” Applegate said. “(the turnaround from Game 1) was amazing.”
“We got our offense running and we played better defense,” Knox said. “We tried a little harder and got out of the funk we were in.”
Cheyanne Bosse’s tip for a kill had St. John up, 8-4, in the third game.
“We wanted to jump out on top every game,” Kubec said. “We wanted to stay ahead. We saw them play and they were down two sets to Windham and came back to win. They just refocus and go with their gamplan. We knew we needed to jump ahead.”
Each time it looked as if the Heralds were going to pull away, a Red Devil would deliver with a kill or a block for a point.
“A lot of those times, I’d look at them and say we need a kill right here,” Applegate said. “They’d shake their head and agree and I would know they were going to try and get it.”
Eventually, Lordstown tied it up at 20-20 following a kill from Knox. After a kill from Kellee Applegate, it was tied at 23-23. DeGeorge’s kill and Reilly DeCato’s ace gave the Heralds a two-games-to-one lead.
The Heralds again built a 7-3 lead in the fourth game, but Toprcer’s kill knotted it at 7-7. After two kills from Toporcer bookended two errors by the Heralds, Lordstown led, 13-11. Schellenberger and DeCato had consecutive kills before Madyson Paradie made it four straight St. John kills with two of her own to put St. John up 15-13. That lead ballooned to 19-13 following four straight Lordstown errors.
“Their defense was amazing,” Kubec said. “They steped up their defense game. They’re so scrappy. They outhustled us in three of those sets. They regrouped (after Game 1) and went with their gameplan. They played phenomenal defense.”
“I’m happy (with the way it ended),” Knox said. “I’m sad, too, but I’m happy and proud of my team.”
The Heralds had five players with at least four kills. DeGeorge led the way with 15, Paradie had 14, Schellenberger had six, DeCato had five and Bosse added four.
“We knew they were going to focus on our outside hitters,” Kubec said. “They were able to see our two best hitters are Reilly (DeGeorge) and Madyson. We have to mix it up to the defense on its toes.”