Johnstown earns shot at third straight title

BALLSTON SPA – With a convincing 3-0 sweep of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, the Johnstown volleyball team moved one step closer to its third straight Section II Class B title and another trip to the state tournament.

The top-seeded Lady Bills defeated fourth-seeded Notre Dame- Bishop Gibbons by scores of 25-19, 25-18 and 25-11 in the Class B semifinals Wednesday at Ballston Spa High School.

“We worked on setting the tone and playing our game,” Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said. “We did that tonight.”

Annie Stock powered the Johnstown attack with 16 service points, 14 kills, 12 digs and five aces, while Alyssa Nellis posted 16 digs, seven points, six blocks and four kills.

“Alyssa [Nellis] played a smart match,” McGuire said. “She really played smart offensively and defensively.”

Bri O’Rourke finished with six kills, six blocks and three digs for the Lady Bills, Morgan Catania had 17 assists and Madison Smrtic recorded 13 digs. Jerica Holland added 12 assists and five kills for Johnstown, which got contributions from everyone that stepped on the floor.

“Having a balanced offensive attack is something we’ve been working to do all season long,” McGuire said.

Caroline Bouchard led Bishop Gibbons with 10 digs, while Emily Brown had 13 assists and nine digs. Sarah Del Vecchio posted three kills for the Lady Knights, and Julie Nichols added five kills.

“We were the only Big 10 team to make it this far. Certainly, the stronger team prevailed tonight, but I’m very proud of my girls,” Bishop Gibbons coach Bob Verhayden said. “We just couldn’t reel them in.”

Johnstown set the tone for the match early, jumping out to a 14-3 lead in the early stages of the contest.

Catania and Stock helped the Lady Bills opened up a lead with service runs of three and seven points, respectively. Stock also had two kills in the opening flurry, while O’Rourke had two kills and a block.

“Our hope was to get some early blocks and digs, but, obviously we didn’t get enough,” Verhayden said. “[Johnstown] got into the flow and were tough to stop. We dug ourselves a hole in the first game before playing them pretty even the rest of the first game.”

Del Vecchio used a five-point service run to help Bishop Gibbons pulled to within 14-9. The Lady Knights closed to within 19-15 before Johnstown won six of the last 10 points to earn the 25-20 first-set win.

In the second game, Bishop Gibbons hung with the Lady Bills most of the way before Johnstown used a late surge to win the set 25-18 after the Lady Knights trailed by three at 17-14.

Bishop Gibbons was coming off a 3-2 win over Albany in a playoff match for the Big 10 title Monday.

“It certainly helped us for tonight,” Verhayden said of the Big 10 playoff match with Albany. “I couldn’t have replicated that kind of intensity in practice.”

In the third game, Johnstown got its offense rolling behind a five-point service run from Kaitlyn Duesler, who also had six digs, three kills and three aces for the Lady Bills.

Duesler’s run gave Johnstown a 14-6 lead.

“We served well, especially in the first and third game,” McGuire said. “We recovered a lot of balls and converted them into points.”

Stock had three kills for Johnstown in the final set and ended the match with a five-point service run as the Lady Bills won the final set 25-11.

“When it comes down to laying the hammer down, our girls know how to play,” McGuire said.

It was the second straight year that the Lady Bills posted a 3-0 win over Bishop Gibbons in the semifinals.

“We knew if we were going to win the Class B title, that we would have to dance with Johnstown at some point,” Verhayden said. “They’re a good team and that have talent all the way around. There’s not a lot of room for error when you play them.”

“It feels good to be playing for the championship again,” Stock said. “There’s some pressure, but we really want to win it again.”

Johnstown (15-1 overall) will face Foothills Council rival Gloversville in the Class B championship match Saturday at Stillwater High School at 4 p.m. The third-seeded Huskies advanced with a 3-2 win over Hudson Falls on Wednesday. Gloversville also handed Johnstown its only Foothills Council loss this season.

“The girls are excited to play for the championship again,” McGuire said.

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