BY MATT MERKEL
Lady Barons Volleyball played their final match of the season in the AMCC semifinals against number six seed Pitt-Bradford. Franciscan University of Steubenville and Bradford played one of the most dramatic matches of the season as the young squads went into a fifth and final set that ended with Bradford on top 15-13 and put an early end to a promising Lady Baron season.
The fifth game was dictated by momentum swings and mimicked the match as a whole. Late in the set it looked like the Lady Barons were going to walk away with a victory after junior setter Amy O’Keefe’s serve hit the foot of a Panther player and jumped out of bounds. The lucky point gave Franciscan a 13-12 lead, their first lead of the set. The script quickly changed, however, as Franciscan watched the lead slip out of their grasp and walked away stunned by Bradford. “It can turn in a heartbeat,” Head Coach Kelly Herrmann said as she talked about how the game ended. “When Amy served that ball and it went off that girl’s foot I thought it was great but you cannot give up control.”
The Lady Barons won the first set 25-21 but their game plan deteriorated in the second game, which they dropped 25-19. Franciscan struggled to handle the opponent’s serve, limiting the offensive options for setter O’Keefe, and making their attack too predictable.
“That’s where the initial breakdown happened,” Herrmann said. “We became predictable and they out-blocked us which should not have happened.”
Momentum switched yet again in favor for Franciscan as they started the third game on a nine point run before allowing Pitt-Bradford to score. They continued to dominate the third set, winning 25-11 as they looked to finally take control. Once again Bradford responded, killing any Franciscan momentum by taking the fourth game 25-17.
“We were really dominant in the third game and afterward we talked about not letting them come back,” Herrmann said. “We needed to be dominant in that fourth game and we just weren’t. We were really strong in the games we won and weak in the games we lost.”
Sophomore outside hitter Dani Link led the Lady Barons in kills with 11, while O’Keefe added nine. Defensively, sophomore libero Sam Kelly tallied 21 digs while sophomore hitter Christina Lawrence chipped in 17 of her own.
For the first time in team history, Herrmann will return her entire roster. Kelly said motivation is not in short supply for the Lady Barons who look forward to a productive off-season in order to get retribution for their early exit in 2013.
“Motivation is not something that we lack,” Herrmann said. “Our girls get to the gym and work on their own. We have a team that is made up of serious volleyball players. I feel like the freshman that come in next year will be stepping into a team with very positive women.”
Consistency was the most challenging opponent for the young Franciscan roster this season, including their playoff loss. Herrmann said she hopes that the loss will serve as a lesson to shore up their mistakes and make a stronger effort next season with a year more experience to their already impressive record. The Lady Barons finished with a 16-3 record in their last 19 matches.
“It stings but you move on,” Herrmann said. “There is a lot to feel good about.”
The Lady Barons will hope to move on into a strong off-season as they prepare for the spring and new run at the AMCC title.