Solon's Comets shot out to the early lead, then held off a furious Jackson rally to win 3-1 and claim the Hudson regional championship

HUDSON  There was the slow start to be sure. The unforced errors. Both hurt the Jackson Polar Bears in their Division I regional championship volleyball match on Saturday against Solon.

The bottom line, however, was the bigger, more athletic Comets had the deeper team to counter Jackson and that they did, 3-1. Solon shot to big leads in taking the first two games 25-22 and 25-17, saw the Bears battle back to win the third 25-23, then fought off game point to grab the critical fourth game 27-25 to earn their first regional title since 2006.

Led by 6-1 University of Alabama-Birmingham recruit Kiana Mack, 6-2 senior Alexandra Levi and 6-0 senior Naeemah Story, Solon's three middle hitters controlled the front row and tossed Jackson's system out of whack. They combined for 13 of the Comets' 15 block kills as they threw a brick wall at Jackson senior outside hitters Michele Rabbitt and Anna Mallette.

Rabbitt had just seven of her 23 kills in the first two games, while Mallette had 11 of her game-high 24 over the same stretch. Solon never trailed in either game.

"When you only have two hitters it's an easy scout," Jackson head coach Cortney Goodwin said. "And they had the weapons to (stop us). I mean, they had the big 6-footers up there. It made it challenging for us to score."

As a result, the Polar Bears trailed 17-7 in the first game and 18-9 in the second.

"We knew where they were going to set the ball," said Solon head coach Missy Fitzgerald. "They had two hitters that were opposites that we knew were going to get 90-plus percent of their sets.

"We knew we needed to shut them down to win. I don't think that we totally shut them down, but we shut them down enough that we were able to play our game."

When Solon reeled off four quick points to start Game 3, Jackson looked like it was going to get swept out of Ray "Buck" Hyser Gymnasium. Then the Polar Bears snapped out of their malaise.

A kill by Rabbitt finally tied the score at 14. A kill by Mallette gave Jackson its first lead of the match and she followed with two more. Jackson sophomore Alyson Woolbert had a block for a 19-15 lead and both Mallette and Rabbitt kept swinging, finishing the game on a Rabbitt kill that had the Polar Bears' crowd rocking.

With Mallette knocking down nine kills and Rabbit eight in the third game, Jackson carried its new-found momentum into the fourth game. A block by freshman Ari Wyant and a Solon unforced error gave Jackson a 20-16 lead. Jackson still led 22-18 with setter Alyson Stanislawki serving but Mack scored a kill for a sideout. Mack and 6-0 junior McKenna Podracky each pounded two kills to steal the lead back.

Rabbitt quickly grabbed it back with a kill and a Comets error gave Jackson game point, 24-23, with the hope of a fifth-set tiebreaker dangling in the air. That hope vanished on a net serve, however, and Solon deftly seized on it with a kill and a block by Naeemah Story to end the match.

"They were always there," Rabbitt said of the Solon front line. "It was really hard to hit around it. They put up a really good fight."

Rabbitt was unhappy with her team's slow start ("I don't think any one of us really turned it on," she said) but accepted the final result.

"I don't regret a thing," she said of Jackson's final 22-5 mark. "I think it's one of the best seasons we've ever had."

Goodwin echoed that sentiment.

"I'm not upset because I don't think we gave up and I think we fought hard with what we have," she said. "We've got so much better throughout the year.

"The better team won. I'm proud of the way the girls fought. They tried hard, they never gave up."

 

Reach Jim at 330-580-8336 or jim.thomas@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jthomasREP