Tallmadge volleyball loses five-set marathons ahead of playoffs

Roger Gordon
Correspondent

The Tallmadge volleyball team has been winning those thrilling five-set matches this season.

Not so last week, however. The Blue Devils were on the wrong side of a pair of five-setters and also a tough four-set match.

Tallmadge began the week Oct. 8 by losing 25-21, 21-25, 25-18, 25-9 at Suburban League American Conference rival Highland.

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On Oct. 10, the Blue Devils fell 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 16-25, 15-9 to league crossover rival Brecksville-Broadview Heights at James O. Maddox Court.

Then, on Oct. 13, Tallmadge lost 25-20, 21-25, 25-18, 23-25, 15-9 to American Conference rival Revere again at James O. Maddox Court.

“If you keep going to five sets, you’re not going to win them all,” Blue Devils head coach Jim Maloof said. “The real lesson here is, we’ve got to close out these matches a little bit sooner and do a couple small things here and there and we’ll be fine.”

In the loss to Highland, the Hornets were highly motivated.

“We’d beaten them the last two times we played them,” said Maloof. “They only had one conference loss this season, and that was from us, so they were bound and determined not to let us beat them again.

“Highland was just on fire. Everything they were doing was clicking, and we were struggling with passing. We made some nice runs, we did some good things, but we never quite got in sync. There were a lot of great individual things that we did, but as a team we just couldn’t get that machine working the way it usually works. In the end, they just wore us down.”

Leading the way for Tallmadge were junior setter Ellie Kirker and senior outside hitter Emma Eyre. Kirker had 24 assists and 15 service points, while Eyre totaled 13 digs and nine kills.

“Both Ellie and Emma did a great job,” Maloof said. “Emma has been performing steady all season long.”

Junior middle hitter Mia Hurst had six blocks, and sophomore defensive specialist Maya Dexter contributed two aces.

According to the coach, the loss to Brecksville was tough.

“The way Brecksville matched up with us was different than most of the teams we usually play,” he said. “We just had difficulty getting through those matchups, but we kept battling, we kept fighting. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Our players definitely worked their butts off. In the end, it just didn’t click.”

Kirker had 39 assists and three aces. Senior libero Kelsie Horner had 21 digs, 14 service points and three aces, while sophomore outside hitter Ella Bee hung up a dozen kills.

“Kelsie’s performance was definitely needed, especially those service points,” said Maloof. “She pulled out those service points when we needed them. They’re nice momentum changers, especially when you get those aces.

“Ella did a great job. She’s been doing a good job throughout the season. She pops up at different times and plays well.”

Eyre had 12 kills and Hurst had six blocks.

Kirker was injured at practice the day before the loss to Revere and did not play in that match. Senior Kaela Skubic, normally a defensive specialist, filled in for Kirker as the setter.

“We had to scramble to put in a new rotation and try to build chemistry with a new setter in less than a full practice,” Maloof said. “The first set was definitely tough and go. In the second set, we started to click a little bit. We made another small adjustment for set four. We got off to a bad start in set five and just didn’t recover.”

Skubic wound up with 44 assists and 23 digs.

“Kaela played well,” said Maloof. “She stepped up to the challenge and did a good job. We also had kids on the court who normally don’t start. Of course, you always want that win, but just watching the way the players responded showed a lot of character, a lot of development and a little bit of maturity.”

Eyre had 15 kills, Horner had 14 service points and Hurst totaled five blocks.

“Mia’s blocks were huge,” the coach said. “She had a lot of nice kills, too. She had a very good match, maybe her best match of the season.”

Tallmadge lost its regular season final 25-13, 25-23, 25-17 to Aurora Oct. 15.

Tallmadge is scheduled to take a 13-7 overall record and a 7-5 American Conference record.

The Blue Devils, seeded fourth in their bracket, are set to host Garfield Heights Trinity in a Division II first-round sectional match Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about having Ellie injured,” said Maloof. “She won’t be back for the Aurora match. We’re not sure if she’ll be back for the postseason. We’re going to try to get ready assuming Kaela will be the setter. We’re hoping for the best, playing for the worst.”