Lady Bills defend Class B crown

STILLWATER – With the Section II Class B championship on the line, the Johnstown and Gloversville volleyball teams met Saturday on the Stillwater High School court.

The two-time reigning champion Lady Bills put Gloversville on the ropes early taking the first two games 25-19 and 25-19.

However, the Huskies fought back taking Game 3 30-28 and Game 4 25-13 to set up a thrilling fifth game.

Gloversville put the Lady Bills on the brink of elimination 24-22 before Johnstown earned a side out and got a pair of hard kills and a block at the net from Alyssa Nellis that rolled down the net and hit the floor on the Gloversville side to give Johnstown a 26-24 Game 5 victory and its third-straight sectional championship.

“I just had tears of enjoyment,” Nellis said of her reaction after seeing her match-winning block hit the floor. “It is probably the best thing that has ever happened. I was just so full of excitement for our team that we are going on to play next Saturday.”

Johnstown will play the winner between Section VII champion Beekmantown or Section X champion Malone at noon in regional play Saturday at Gloversville High School with the winner advancing to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships on Nov. 16 and 17 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Johnstown took control of Saturday’s championship match handily winning games one and two with identical 25-19 scores.

The Huskies shook off the losses and stayed with the Lady Bills early in Game 3 only to fall behind 17-13.

Gloversville started to rally behind the serving of Lizzie Peak and Jenna Putnam and kills from Ana Kroup and Katlyn Pierce to take a 21-20 lead.

The Huskies stretched the lead out to game point 24-21 only to have the Lady Bills power back with Morgan Catania at the line and a pair of Annie Stock kills to tie the game at 24.

Neither team could manage the necessary two-point lead until Johnstown could not return a pair of services from Kroup and the Huskies stayed alive with a 30-28 victory.

“Games one and two, those were sectional finals jitters right there,” Gloversville coach Duane Hicks said. “They knew it but weren’t really concerned. It was like lets get that out and now lets play. It was a great, great comeback.”

Gloversville carried the momentum into the fourth game taking control midway through on a four-point service run by Stacia Griesemer and a seven-point run by Peak to pull ahead 18-9 en route to the 25-13 win to set up the fifth and deciding game.

“Game one and two, we were in control but game three was emotion,” Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said. “If we were not playing Gloversville, I don’t think that would have happened. Given the history in the league and these girls know each other very well. As far as momentum in that third game coming so close and not winning a 30-28 match . . . I don’t think it was anything our girls didn’t do. I think Gloversville just stepped it up tremendously then and in the fourth game. Again the crowd, emotions and history. It took us that until last game to readjust.”

Griesemer again helped the Huskies open a lead with a service run and Kroup added a kill to build a 9-4 advantage, which they opened to 13-6 at the switch.

The Lady Bills mounted a rally with Hannah Breda and Stock connecting for kills or tipping the ball into openings in the Gloversville defense.

Johnstown tied the game at 17 and took an 18-17 lead on back-to-back blocks from Nellis, but could not pull away as Gloversville fought back to tie the game at 19.

The teams exchanged leads before Peak stepped to the service line with the score knotted at 22 apiece. Pierce finished off a Johnstown bump that came down close to the net for a 23-22 lead and the Huskies pushed the Lady Bills to match point after a volley that resulted in four-hits by Johnstown.

The Lady Bills got the side-out they needed to put the score at 24-23.

Kaitlyn Duesler put the ball in play from the service line, which the Huskies returned, but the Lady Bills looked to Stock for help. She responded by hitting the floor cleanly with a pair of kills to move Johnstown to match point 25-24.

Gloversville handled Duesler’s serve and got it to the front line where Nellis won the battle at the net, dropping the ball down on the Gloversville side for the 26-24 Game 5 victory.

“We were down in the fifth game and the girls did what they had to do,” McGuire said. “They knew what was on the line and coming back from a 13-8 deficit and winning was exactly what they needed to do. The girls have really been working hard on staying focused. They want to be the best team possible.”

For the match, Putnam finished with 41 assists and 12 digs for Gloversville, while Pierce had 19 kills, 21 digs and six block and Kroup finished with 17 kills and 12 digs.

Hicks said, “It was tough giving up a cushion in the fifth game but they have been here before and we haven’t. Maybe it showed but I don’t really think so honestly. We said we were not going to leave anything out there and we didn’t.”

Stock led Johnstown with 24 kills, 17 digs, 13 service points one ace and a block. Jerica Holland had 19 assists, 10 kills, three digs and four aces, while Catania added 25 assists, 10 digs and 10 points. Nellis had 13 blocks, seven kills, 15 digs and eight points, while Breda contributed eight kills and four blocks. Brianne O’Rourke finished with five kills and eight blocks, while Duesler had four kills, 14 digs, 10 points and a block and Madison Smrtic added 16 digs.

“We just picked our heads up and kept pushing through,” Nellis said. “Our fans really helped us to keep our momentum and intensity up. I thought it was amazing [the raucous atmosphere in the gym] and it was a great thing to have.”