KANE — Finding itself in a playoff grinder in its first trip to the postseason in 12 years, the Brookville Lady Raiders volleyball team couldn’t hang on to a late lead and were knocked out in a grueling five-set loss to Kane.
Earning the third seed in the four-team District 9 Class AA playoffs, the Lady Raiders trekked north for another matchup with Kane. Last month, they jumped on the hosts for a 2-0 lead before dropping the final three sets.
This time around, it was Kane that rallied from a 2-1 set deficit to win the final two sets in a 25-16, 14-25, 16-25, 25-22, 15-12 win to earn a rematch with top-seeded Redbank Valley in Saturday’s final at St. Marys Area High School starting at 1 p.m.
Last year, Redbank Valley beat Kane in five sets to win the title.
“This team is different from last year’s team, a different kind of mentality,” Kane head coach Judy Kessler said. “We had some nice players last year and nice players this year, and (Redbank Valley) is loaded as usual so it’s going to be a grind and these kids are really looking for it.”
But, Kessler knew her team had its hands full before any possible rematch. The Lady Wolves blitzed the visitors for an easy first-set win, then watched Brookville’s strong serving and net play led by senior Olivia Pearson grab the momentum in the second and third sets.
And then the Lady Raiders appeared to be headed to Saturday with a 20-16 lead late in the fourth set, but a 9-2 run sparked by outside hitter Trinity Clark won it for Kane, which then took the momentum into the decisive fifth set to 15.
Still, Brookville led 11-9 after a Leah Kammerdeiner ace, but four Clark kills sparked a match-clinching 6-1 run to end the night.
“We had them on the ropes and just couldn’t shut the door and that’s where our inexperience, not having any experience at this level hurt and they had tons of experience … We did what we could and my kids fought hard,” said Lady Raiders head coach Joyce Reitz, whose team finished the year at 11-8.
It was Brookville’s first trip to the playoffs since 2005, its first winning season since 2004 with this year just the second winning season since at least 1997.
“Kane did a nice job when they were down to come back and win and I think my kids gained some valuable experience,” Reitz said. “Teams will take notice that we have a volleyball team in Brookville and not just in other sports.”
Clark was the difference, dominating her way to 25 kills with teammate Ella Marconi adding 18 kills and three blocks. Hannah Buhl had 46 assists.
So when the Lady Raiders served it well, Kane couldn’t get into any offensive rhythm, which is what happened in the second and third sets after the visitors shook off a long bus ride into postseason pressure in the first set.
“We served better,” Reitz said. “Our serving was much better and our passing was better and we could attack. They were not passing and moving. We did what we needed to do on this side but couldn’t translate it on the other side (of the floor).”
Brookville out-aced Kane in the service department, 19-2. Leah Kammerdeiner and Kira Powell each had six aces while twin sisters Madison and Morgan Johnson each finished with three. At the net, Pearson had 17 kills and eight blocks. Powell turned in a strong night at the net as well with seven kills and Mikayla Aikins had three kills and three blocks.
“We struggled with their serve-receive for whatever reason,” Kessler said. “We weren’t keeping our chin on it and taking the platform to the ball and they kept us out of our system and we didn’t have anything to give to Hannah to set up. To beat a team like this, we have to play from antennae to antennae at the net.”
The Lady Raiders led for good after a 2-2 tie in the second set, then blasted off to a 17-4 lead to start the third set. Kammerdeiner had four of her aces in the set.
Then in the fourth, a Marconi kill put Kane up 16-15 before the Lady Raiders scored five straight points — two on Pearson kills, one on a Powell ace and Cheyanne Gotwald kill — to grab the 20-16 edge.
But Kane roared back with three Clark kills and an ace, and a Marconi kill to finish off the run and even things at 2-2, and get Kane on the side of the court opposite the raucous and loud and involved student body that was bussed from Brookville.
“That Brookville crowd was rough,” Kessler credited. “We didn’t want to be down there on that end for the fifth set and that’s why we chose this side for receiving, but we do that anyway when we win the coin toss. The fans were a factor tonight, but I credit the kids for not stopping and continuing to fight.”
Especially Clark, who had six kills in the fifth set, putting her team on her back and getting it back to another championship matchup.
“That’s what she is on our team,” Kessler “She’s the absolute catalyst we need her to be and she naturally is. She’s a fighter and never says die and these kids buy into that.”
For Reitz and the Lady Raiders, it was a tough pill to swallow, but an acknowledgment and nod to a promising future.
“It was an experience, but the kids were very disappointed and wanted to play Saturday for the title,” she said. “But it’s a good sign. We’re moving forward.”