John Marshall Rolls Into Final

Monarchs have date with Morgantown on Saturday at UL

Photo by Cody Tomer John Marshall’s Lydia Knutsen serves during the OVAC semifinals at John Marshall on Tuesday.

MOUNDSVILLE — John Marshall seemed to get stronger and stronger as Tuesday’s OVAC 5A semifinal match went on.

The Monarchs (18-3) hosted the first round of the tournament and used the homecourt to their advantage on the way to a 25-21, 25-18 and a dominating 25-10 sweep of University, sending the Monarchs to the OVAC championship on Saturday at Union Local, where they will take on Morgantown.

“I told them that we were doing stuff right in the first and second sets but we were still waiting on our game,” John Marshall coach Chelsea Eikleberry said. “We bring our best toward the end of the match, which has been a theme for us this season. Once we do a few things, our momentum gets going, they push and we end up winning.

“This was Step 1 of our goal. We have played great all season and the girls bring their best game most of the time. They are such a good group of girls and they have really bonded. They get along great and I think that shows on the court. I am really excited for them.”

After taking the first two sets by narrow victories, the Monarchs hit their stride in the third and final set.

With the Monarchs clinging to a 12-10 edge, libero Lydia Knutsen took over serving duties. She quickly delivered back-to-back aces to build the momentum and never looked back. Knutsen and the Monarchs reeled off 13 consecutive points to end the match as Lauren Garcia removed all doubt with the match-winning kill.

“The first two sets, we played really hard,” University coach Don Godfrey said. “The third set, we started off decent but fell apart and it just snowballed and we couldn’t get ourselves back into it.”

The Monarchs looked strong in the first two sets, as well. In a 4-4 tie in the first set, John Marshall grabbed a 5-4 lead and handed the ball to Maddy Mayle, who strung together a trio of points to create an 8-4 cushion.

University’s Anna Tretheway brought her squad back with three straight points to later knot the set at 10-10. The tug-of-war battle continued as Knutsen led a three-point scoring run to give the hosts a 14-10 advantage but University’s Lindsey Warden answered with four consecutive points to cut the deficit to just 16-15. However, John Marshall’s Lauren Rose generated a three-point scoring streak to give the Monarchs some breathing room and Emily Harr secured the game-ending kill on an assist from Garcia.

Lauren Huggins gave the Hawks an early 4-0 lead to start the second set but behind a ruckus crowd, John Marshall’s Sydney Zimla brought her team back to take the lead by an 8-6 count. University continued to battle and brought the set to even at 10-10, until Knutsen made her presence felt once again by collecting four straight points to secure a 14-10 lead.

University (13-4) outscored John Marshall 7-3 during the next 10 volleys to tie the game at 17-17 but Mayle turned in six consecutive points to put the game on ice. Garcia delivered an assist to Harr for another game-ending kill.

Mayle also accounted for a four-point scoring streak to early in the third set to help set the table for Knutsen’s 13-point streak.

“Our coverage was phenomenal and our defense was there every time we needed to be,” Eikleberry said. “That is something we worked really hard on in practice, along with getting our serves in.

“Our serves were not good against Wheeling Park last week. I said that we cannot win a game if that happens but we really improved on that (Tuesday).”

Mayle accumulated 16 kills, 13 blocks and four digs, while Garcia handed out 33 assists, gathered four digs and provided two blocks in the win.

Knutsen tallied 22 digs and five aces and Megan Denning recorded 15 digs for the Monarchs.

“John Marshall is a good team,” Godfrey said. “We didn’t hit our spots, we were hitting the ball out of bounds and we were missing our serves and you cannot make mistakes against a team like that. They will take advantage of it.”