LEAVITTSBURG - As Kirtland softly sent the ball over the net on Wednesday during a Division III sectional matchup, three Brookfield players converged and prepared to send it back.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, none of them hit it and the ball dropped in front of them for a point. It was a simple miscommunication, but it epitomized the match for Brookfield.
Not much went right for the Warriors as they were ousted, 3-0, in the second round of the playoffs. Kirtland now plays top-seeded Gilmour Academy on Monday at LaBrae High School. The winner moves on to the district final.
The Hornets, the sixth seed, haven't lost a set in beating Wickliffe and fifth-seeded Brookfield. Their dominance of Brookfield was a bit surprising. The Warriors (14-8) have been a strong team all year, but coach Bob Calvin said it was an off night for his girls.
"We didn't get a break tonight at all, but you make your own breaks," he said. "The effort was there, we just couldn't put anything together tonight. We've played way better than that before."
The match started out even, as two teams with no knowledge of each other went through a feeling-out period for the first few minutes. Kirtland was the first to find a rhythm and took a five-point lead, but Brookfield responded with a run of its own and trailed by just two at 14-12. Yet, that's when the Hornets started to pour it on. Outside hitter Rachel Polak delivered several crushing kills during a run that quickly gave Kirtland a 20-12 advantage. The Hornets finished off Game 1, 25-14.
While Calvin said he thought the Warriors were nervous, Kirtland coach Rene' Silders believed her girls were almost too calm.
"It's their mentality as athletes," she said. "They don't get real pumped when they do things well, they don't get real defeated when they don't do things well. They're just kind of a group that I wish they had more fire sometimes. We even say, 'You girls are too nice.' "
The mindset worked in the Hornets' favor on Wednesday. They continued to play well in Game 2 despite an early 7-5 lead by Brookfield. Kirtland went on a four-point spree and then followed it with a five-point swing to go up, 15-10. The Warriors moved within 15-12, but Kirtland, as it did the entire match, regained the momentum and never looked back, scoring 10 of the final 13 points to win, 25-15.
"We matchup well with them, but we just didn't play well tonight. We played on errors tonight," Calvin said. "And Kirtland's a really well put-together team. They look like they're seasoned."
Brookfield finally got on track in Game 3 as the two teams battled back and forth. The Hornets never trailed after taking a 6-5 lead, but the Warriors were within a point at 22-21 and seemed to have found a tempo. But, a few plays went the way of Kirtland, ending the momentum and Brookfield's season with a 25-21 victory.
"There was a lot of unpredictability in this game," Silders said. "They didn't know much about us, and we didn't know much about them. But I think they say that we had some good hitters and we played pretty good defense, and just when they thought they had things going their way, we would take it back."'
It was a difficult end to the season for the Warriors, who will have to deal with the losses of six seniors, including Tori Thompson, a senior setter who finished her career at Brookfield with more than 1,000 assists.
"She's been one of the main leaders on the team," Calvin said. "We had some great hitters who came up who she's worked with, and she's just been a great leader."
Something Calvin especially liked about how Thompson was how she handled reaching the feat. Calvin said attaining such a mark requires the entire team - other players have to give her a good pass and finish off the kill and that concept wasn't overlooked by Thompson.
"She understands that and she made sure she told our whole team that she appreciated them," he said. "Hopefully by the end of next year, our hitter (Delaney Saxton) will have 1,000 kills. She's doing great."
Thompson led the Warriors with nine assists, while Saxton provided a team-high eight kills.