High school volleyball / Coventry 3, Tallmadge 0: Comets dominate Blue Devils in Division II regional semifinal

Jimmy Miller
For the Beacon Journal
Coventry's Miya Gotto, left, celebrates with teammate Carly Wightman as the Comets increase their lead against Tallmadge during the third set of a Division II regional semifinal volleyball match, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Stow, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

STOW – In a match in which it only trailed once briefly, Coventry remained dominant in a three-set sweep over Tallmadge in a Division II Region 5 semifinal Thursday night.

The Comets handily defeated the Blue Devils 25-14, 25-18, 25-16 to extend a remarkable stretch during which they have won every set they’ve played since late September. In the postseason, they've defeated their opponents by nearly a combined 100 points.

Coventry advanced to play Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin at 2 p.m. Saturday in the regional final. 

Against Tallmadge, the Comets found themselves down by one point early in the first set but jumped out to a quick lead shortly after. They never trailed at any point in the match again.

The win couldn’t have been more rewarding, as Coventry fell out of the postseason last year in a five-set, district semifinal loss to the Blue Devils. Junior middle hitter Carly Wightman said the Comets – who also avenged that loss to the Blue Devils with a win in the regular season – had never fully forgotten falling short by just two points in 2019.

The Comets were the district’s top overall seed last season, too, which only made the loss sting more.

Coventry's Carly Wightman, facing, spikes the ball against Tallmadge's Mia Hurst during the second set of a Division II regional semifinal volleyball match, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Stow, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

“I’m really excited this year,” Wightman said. “It feels good to finally beat [Tallmadge]. We’ve been working so hard, so it feels good that it’s all paying off.”

The Comets continued to run their offense through the middle hitters, particularly junior Wightman. When they were down early, she managed two kills and a block to put Coventry ahead again, and her emphatic kill to put them up 14-10 forced Tallmadge coach Jim Maloof to use his first timeout.

Wightman finished the first set with six kills, and sophomore middle hitter Ronnie Meinen’s block ended the set.

Wightman then picked up right where she left off by opening the second set with a kill. The Comets built an 8-3 lead behind two blocks by sophomore outside hitter Brooke Mirka and scores by Meinen and senior outside hitter Cassidy Karakis.

The Comets rolled to an 17-12 lead, but the Blue Devils closed the gap to 17-15 on three consecutive kills by senior outside hitter Emma Eyre. But Tallmadge was called for a double-hit, and Karakis scored on a well-placed ball right down the left line.

Wightman scored three of the Comets’ final five points to close out the set and go up 2-0 in the match.

“The other side had no idea where we were going to go, and that’s really the key for us,” Coventry coach Breanna Caslow said.

Coventry's Brooke Mirka dives to get under a ball during the third set of a Division II regional semifinal volleyball match against Tallmadge, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Stow, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Eyre and sophomore outside hitters Zoe Rensel and Ella Bee all recorded kills for the Blue Devils early in the third set, but they still fell behind quickly. Wightman recorded a block and registered a kill that put the Comets up 15-11 and forced the Blue Devils to call timeout.

Moments later, the Blue Devils were called for four hits and struck a ball long right out of the timeout, digging a hole they couldn’t surmount. Mirka, Ronnie Meinen and sophomore setter Mallory Meinen all had kills near the end of the set, and Wightman closed it out with a spike that sent the Comets into the regional final.

Slowing down the Blue Devils offense wasn’t easy. Eyre had 24 kills and 16 service points in Tallmadge’s five-set district championship win over Beaumont, and junior setter Ellie Kirker – who specializes in misdirection – had 40 assists and two service aces in that match.

“We just put up a big block [on Eyre],” Caslow said. “Their setter, who’s phenomenal on tips and dumps, we practiced on that and it paid off. I think she only got one or two on us.”

Things won't get any easier for the Comets with a berth in the state tournament on the line. Caslow said she did not watch the Lions defeat Mentor Lake Catholic in Thursday's first match, but she anticipates facing another challenge.

Only eight teams are left in the postseason and the Comets — who won their first district championship just last weekend — are thrilled to be one of them, especially after last year’s postseason heartbreak.

“I think that’s what really hung on them – losing by two in five sets,” Caslow said. “They wanted to come out and they wanted to perform [tonight]. We were a little off, but we made it happen.”

Tallmadge's Kendall Kirkland, left, and Ella Bee, right, look to defend a shot by Coventry's Carly Wightman during the first set of a Division II regional semifinal volleyball match, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Stow, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]