HUDSON — Jackson rode huge performances from its two outside hitters to a four-set win over Walsh Jesuit in a Division I regional semifinal at Hudson High School Thursday.
Seniors Michele Rabbitt (24) and Anna Mallette (17) combined for 41 kills for the Polar Bears (22-4), including six for Rabbitt in a tense third set and eight for Mallette in the final set, en route to a 25-14, 23-25, 27-25, 25-19 victory over the Warriors.
For Jackson coach Cortney Goodwin, though, the huge night came as no surprise.
"That’s normal," Goodwin said. "Both of my hitters average over 20 kills per game. We rely on them so much. We ride them. They’re our seniors, and they really want to get back to the final. They just swing hard every time. It’s 100 percent effort. They don’t make a lot of errors."
The victory set up the Polar Bears for a meeting with Solon (21-5) in the regional final on Saturday. The Comets dispatched Painesville Riverside (21-5) in straight sets in Thursday's first match.
Jackson got off to a hot start, scoring the first six points of the match, the last on a Mallette ace that forced Walsh Jesuit (16-10) into a timeout. The two hitters combined for three service aces en route to a first-set win, and Mallette scored the deciding point on a tip over the net that fell between two Warriors defenders.
Walsh Jesuit didn’t go away, though. After dropping the first set, the Warriors took the second on an ace by Amelia Smith. Claire Constantino, Jackie Deininger and Megan Merril each had four kills in the set.
Then came what Goodwin would call the "turning point." She moved Rabbitt to the middle of the floor, and the senior hitter started scoring more frequently.
This was apparent during the third set. After five lead changes, Jackson’s Alyson Stanislawski scored an ace to tie the set at 23. Three points later, Mallette smashed a spike to give the Polar Bears a 26-25 lead, and when the Warriors couldn’t handle the ensuing serve, Jackson led two sets to one.
The Polar Bears charged out to a 19-10 advantage in the fourth and final set, but Walsh Jesuit kept it interesting, scoring seven of the next 10 points to stay in it. The hope was short-lived, though, as Rabbitt ended the match with her 24th kill after a serve by Mallette.
"Defensively, Walsh Jesuit was unbelievable," Goodwin said. "They definitely out-dug us; their defense was a bit better than ours. They played hard and never gave up. I never felt comfortable. Even in that fourth set when we had a big lead, I did not feel comfortable."