CANTON - Johnstown is headed back to the state final four.
The Lady Bills volleyball team punched its ticket to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B championship with a dominating sweep of Section X champion Massena, 25-20, 25-13 and 25-12 Saturday at SUNY Canton.
"They did exactly what we practiced," Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said. "We worked on expecting the unexpected and tracking the ball. We knew if we could get the ball to our setters, we could play our game. They did exactly what we practiced. We focused on having a solid service game and playing defense."
The Johnstown volleyball team storms the court after a 3-0 win over Section X champion Massena at the New York state regional finals Saturday at SUNY Canton. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
The Johnstown victory completed a sweep of the Section X champions by the Section II teams playing at SUNY Canton on Saturday. Voorheesville defeated Salmon River to advance to the Class C final four, while Hartford beat Chateaugay to reach the Class D final four.
The Lady Bills wasted little time establishing a rhythm to their game. Senior co-captain Zara Hyde served Johnstown out to a quick 3-0 advantage and Hannah Breda connected for a kill to get a quick side out. Johnstown kept the momentum going to pull away to an 8-3 advantage before the Lady Red Raiders rallied behind Tristan Thomas' service run to pull to within a point, 13-12. Massena tied the match at 15 when Breda touched the ball over the net, but Annie Stock followed with a hard kill to send the momentum back in Johnstown's favor.
The Lady Bills continued to find the open spots in the Lady Raiders' defense and pulled away to a 25-20 first-game victory.
The second game remained tight early as the teams exchanged side outs. Alyssa Nellis started to bring the momentum to Johnstown's side of the net with a short service run which Elizabeth Hayward followed with a run of her own to build an 11-8 edge.
The Lady Bills broke the game open with a seven-point service run by Brianne O'Rourke. During the run, Stock drilled back-to-back hard kills that appeared to rattle the Massena players, and the Lady Bills capitalized on the situation to finish off the 25-13 victory.
Massena stayed with Johnstown through the opening points of the third game only to fall back when Jerica Holland strung together a two-ace, six-point run to build an 11-4 lead. Nellis followed Holland with a five-point run to put the Lady Bills out front 16-7.
The Lady Raiders fought back to cut the Johnstown lead to 18-9, but quickly faded as Breda hit two consecutive clean kills from the right side that Stock followed with a pair of kills from the left to propel Johnstown to a 25-12 win, completing the sweep and earning its second straight berth in the state final four.
"We are ready and will do something this year," Hayward said. "Defensively, we knew what was going on today. We read [Massena's hitters] well, which is something we picked up from playing teams like Queensbury and South High all year."
The Lady Bills held Massena's Janisa Benedict, who has recorded double-digit kills in the Lady Raiders' last two games, to five kills and one block. Sidney Thompson finished with three kills and seven assists, while Krista Loran had three kills for Massena.
"We don't have a huge amount of competition in our section," Massena coach Mary Arcadi said. "I just feel if we had more teams of that caliber to play, we would be better. Johnstown is a great team with two great hitters, which we don't see often. I am in no way disappointed in the way my girls played tonight. They have come along and peaked at the right time. I am pleased that they did as well as they did. I just wish we could have kept the momentum going."
The Lady Red Raiders defeated previously unbeaten Chateaugay, 3-0, on Thursday night to claim the Section X overall championship.
Stock led Johnstown with 17 kills and eight digs, while Breda had eight kills and two blocks and Hyde finished with six kills, six digs and 20 assists. Nellis contributed five kills and three digs to the Lady Bills' attack, while Holland had 15 assists, three digs and three aces and Hayward had 14 digs.
"We are at the end of the quarter and it is starting to get cold out, so there are a lot of reasons for the girls to be sleepy and tired. But they did it," McGuire said. "They knew where they want to end their season and that is at the Civic Center."