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Relaxed Knights rally for state volleyball berth

Trailing 2-1 after three sets, the Alter Knights needed to regroup. But it wasn’t time for X’s and O’s or strategy.

“Renee did ‘yoga coaching,’ ” Alter coach Tina Jasinowski said. “Going into the third set, we had talked about strategy, but it wasn’t about what we were doing or not doing fundamentally, it was about our mental game.”

So, after dropping two straight sets, Alter assistant coach Renee DeGraff had the players close their eyes and relax.

“I was a little surprised when she told us to close our eyes but I feel like it helped us regain our focus,” outside hitter Maddie Bazelak said. “We needed to relax and find our game.”

The Knights found their game and found a way to win, edging McNicholas, 25-20, 17-25, 16-25, 25-15, 15-10, in the Division II regional final at Wilmington High School on Saturday. Alter earned its third consecutive, and seventh overall, trip to the state tournament.

After falling to McNicholas in straight sets during the regular season, the Knights were anxious for redemption. Alter took control early, leading 20-11 in the opening set. The Rockets made a late run, closing to 20-22, but could never capture the lead.

The second set belonged to McNicholas from the opening serve as the Rockets sped to a 12-3 lead and never trailed. McNicholas maintained the momentum through the third set while the Knights struggled on the court.

But it was the refocused Knights, in a must-win fourth set, who came up big with a 25-15 win. After more than 100 minutes of hard-fought volleyball, the first team to 15 was moving on to state.

The Rockets were visibly rattled early in the fifth set as four consecutive errors resulted in a 4-0 Alter lead. A pair of aces by sophomore setter Melissa Beach, who had four aces on the day, gave the Knights a 10-3 lead – a lead McNicholas couldn’t overcome.

“I don’t know how many times they (McNicholas) have had their backs up against the wall but we have and we’ve come back,” Jasinowski said. “I think that helped us today.”

Bazelak led the Knights with 13 kills but junior middle hitter Sara Crotty was close behind with 12.

State tournament Division II play gets underway Thursday at Wright State’s Nutter Center.