Patriots pull 1 win away from state title


Sweep away Amherst Steele 25-21, 25-22, 25-23

By Ben Stroup - bstroup@aimmediamidwest.com



Claire Mrukowski led a balanced attack with nine kills, Gabi Moulton ran the offense with a game-high 27 assists, McKenna Cook had 20 digs and Michelle Ezenekwe finished with seven blocks as the Olentangy Liberty girls volleyball team swept away Amherst Steele 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 in a Division I state semifinal Thursday afternoon at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.

The Patriots (27-1) have been comeback queens of late. They secured three straight sets after dropping the opener in a regional semifinal against Dublin Scioto, then rallied from seven points down in the first set of the regional final to roll past rival Olentangy Orange and punch a ticket to the state semifinal.

Against Steele (23-4), though, Liberty didn’t have to do much coming from behind because, well, it didn’t trail much.

The Patriots led 8-2 in the opener on an Abbey Queen ace before holding on for the four-point win. The Comets rallied to tie things at 20 thanks to a kill by Laken Voxx, but a Steele hitting error, kill by Moulton and ace from Kacey Hilvert gave the Patriots control before they took the set on another Steele hitting error.

The second set was back and fourth until the Patriots used a 4-0 run capped by a Nicole Russell kill to take a 13-9 lead.

Steele scored 11 of the next 16 points to take a 20-17 edge into the set’s late stages, but Liberty got back to even with kills from Kaili Worcester and Ezenekwe. The duo also teamed up for a combo block during the spurt.

The Patriots went up for good when Mrukowski’s kill made it 22-21, then won the set with a kill from Cook.

The third set was nip-and-tuck, too, but Liberty came up with key plays when it needed them most.

The Comets, who trailed 7-2 early on, knotted things at 19 before taking a 21-19 lead on a kill from Sidney Hooks. Three straight from the Patriots — two kills from Worcester and another from Ezenekwe — helped them regain the lead and, after the teams traded hitting errors, Liberty took the set and the match with back-to-back kills from Worcester and Mrukowski.

Voxx had a game-best 13 kills for the Comets. Nia Hall also had a big game for Steele, collecting nine kills, 22 digs and three blocks in the setback.

Next up, Liberty will take on Rocky River Magnificat — a 3-0 winner over Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in the other semi — in Saturday’s state championship match slated for 11 a.m. back at the Nutter Center. The Patriots beat the Blue Streaks twice in the regular season, 2-1 in the second game of a doubleheader Sept. 24 and 3-1 Oct. 9.

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Sweep away Amherst Steele 25-21, 25-22, 25-23

By Ben Stroup

bstroup@aimmediamidwest.com