Knights blitz error-filled A-P, advance to sectional title match

FARMER CITY — The beat goes on for Evan Miles and company.

The Blue Ridge volleyball coach guided his team to a sixth consecutive regional championship on Thursday, and on their home floor, the Knights scored the final five points in a 25-17, 25-22 sectional semifinal victory over Armstrong-Potomac on Monday night.

“We practice those situations all the time. Even when we were down 22-20, we showed some resilience to come back,” Miles said. “That showed great resiliency from our group to terminate and push the point and close the set out.”

The most thrilling point came with the Knights ahead 17-16 late in the second set, as Carley Ester sent a hard Trojans hit up into the rafters, Hannah Brackenhoff collected it off the bounce, and Jessie Wanserski sent it over the net for an eventual point following an A-P hitting error.

“That’s Hannah in a nutshell. Any ball, any angle, any speed. She usually gets the ball up and adjusts to it as much as possible. She’s a natural at that,” Miles said.

Moments later, though, a block by A-P’s Emma Franzen and two consecutive aces by the sophomore gave the Trojans a 20-19 lead, and Jenna Muench’s kill made the score 22-20.

Polly Reynolds’ kill tied the score at 22, and a block by the senior middle hitter sent the Knights to the sectional championship match.

“(Polly’s) a spark plug. She’s an energizer — her and Megan (Schumacher) both,” Miles said. “They’re very vocal, and it shows. Cheerleading and having a natural passion for volleyball. I appreciate them on and off (the court). They give us that extra boost.”

The third-seeded Trojans (20-15) shot themselves in the foot time and again Monday night, committing eight service errors and 15 hitting errors to account for nearly half of the Blue Ridge points.

“We didn’t come out and play well the first game,” A-P coach Candy Franzen said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we didn’t play like we were capable. The second game, we came back, but a lot of our own mistakes hurt us. We couldn’t recover from missed serves and just little things.

“That’s the game right there. And we talked about cutting that in half the second game. We were close, but we couldn’t get it done. … We wanted more. They are a good team. I’m not saying they’re not. But when you count up the errors, and that’s half the game, that says a lot about our mentality.”

It is the third straight postseason defeat at the hands of Blue Ridge, which defeated the Trojans in regional title matches in 2016 and 2017, and it ends a historic season for A-P, which captured its first regional title since 1999.

“I said, ‘You guys have done something no team (at Armstrong-Potomac) has done in 20 years. You don’t have to hang your heads,” Franzen said. “We just didn’t fulfill what we came here to do. You did great. We had a year that was up and down, but when it came to it, we got past that regional game. They have nothing to hang their heads about. They know they didn’t play their best tonight, but there are no re-dos, either.”

For the Knights (32-6), advancing to another Sweet 16, this time on their home court, made the victory a little sweeter, and they will look to capture a sectional championship against Flanagan-Cornell (24-11-1) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night after coming up short in sectional title matches in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s very satisfying,” Miles said of winning at home, adding that he has applied for Blue Ridge to host a sectional for nine years. “Hopefully, we don’t disappoint. There was a good crowd for both matches and good energy all around.

“(Flanagan-Cornell) has a good supporting cast, and we’re looking forward to the challenge, especially here. It’ll be a loud atmosphere. They’re very scrappy. They seldom make a lot of unforced errors. We are going to have to be cleaner all around.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Volleyball, Sports

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