CLINTONVILLE - The Johnstown Lady Bills are one step closer to a return engagement in Glens Falls.
Tuesday at AuSable High School, the Section II Class B volleyball champions turned back Section VII champion and previously unbeaten Beekmantown 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 22-25 and 25-18) to advance to the Regional championships Saturday at SUNY Canton.
"I am just so proud of them," Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said. "This is a game we have been practicing a long time for. All hands were on deck today. It definitely required all of us to be on our game. They are a really tough team with big blocking and great defense. We needed to keep our offense strong and our defense stronger."
Johnstown’s Alyssa Nellis (15) blocks Beekmantown’s Michaela LaFountain (5) during Tuesday’s Class B regional semifinal match at AuSable Valley High School in?Clintonville. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
The Lady Bills (17-3) will face Section X champion Massena at 4 p.m. in a rematch of last year's Regional opening-round match, which Johnstown won 3-0.
Section II Class D champion Hartford also advanced and will play Section X champion Chateaugay in the 2 p.m. match, while Class C champion Voorheesville will face Section X's Salmon River at Noon.
Beekmantown (17-1) got off to a fast start with Emily Anderson opening the game with a five-point service run to put the Lady Bills in an early hole.
It didn't take long for Johnstown to erase the deficit as Zara Hyde and Brianne O'Rourke put together strong service runs around a quick side out to take a 9-7 lead.
The Eagles did not let Johnstown pull away as 6-foot-3 sophomore Shannon Ryan and Anderson made their presence known at the net on both offense and defense.
However, a strong kill from Annie Stock to get a 19-18 edge, gave the Lady Bills the springboard they needed as they pulled away to take the opening game 25-20. It also was the first game the Eagles had lost this season.
Johnstown broke out to an early advantage in game two, only this time Beekmantown rallied to take an 8-6 advantage.
The lead was short-lived though as the rotation put Stock at the service line, moving Hannah Breda and Hyde to the front.
Breda came through with a pair of kills, a dig and teamed with Alyssa Nellis for a block on Ryan to pull the Lady Bills even. Johnstown again got a fast side out and Jerica Holland fired an ace before Hyde connected for three powerful kills from the outside to build a 15-10 lead and force Beekmantown coach Shana Hileman to call a timeout.
The Eagles responded to get back to within a point, 23-22 before Stock again nailed a hard shot to the floor to put the game at 24-22 and Hyde served up the final point for the 25-22 win and a 2-0 lead.
McGuire warned her team after the second game victory that "they are going to fight you with everything they have in this game."
She was correct.
Anderson served up three aces en route to getting the Eagles off to an early 6-0 lead.
The Lady Bills adjusted and with Elizabeth Hayward at the line, came back to tie the game at 11. Hayward added a pair of aces and stock a pair of kills to put Johnstown up 16-13 before Beekmantown was able to break the Lady Bills service.
The Eagles rallied back behind Jordynne Ales service to tie the game, but the Lady Bills took a 22-20 lead after a reversed call after a block on Hyde by Grace Kelly and Anderson fell out of bounds and was initially called in favor of Beekmantown. After a short discussion by officials, the call was reversed after it was determined that Hyde did not make contact with the ball before it went out of bounds.
The Eagles got a side out on the next service and closed out the game on a four-point service run by Michaela LaFountain and a solid kill from Kelly to take game three 25-22.
"Our biggest thing was the first ball," Hileman said. "When that first ball comes over you have got to put that ball to a setter. That third game we got our groove. It wasn't like we did some other spectacular things. We did pass a lot better and our hitters got contact they are supposed to get and were able to put the ball down. Johnstown has excellent ball control. Their first contact was always going to a setter. You may think you were pushing the ball to a deep corner but somebody was always getting there to get it to a setter. The third game we just executed much better and made fewer errors."
Coach McGuire complimented Beekmantown on its third-game performance.
"They were playing the balls where we weren't," she said. "When the rhythm changed throughout the game they were adjusting quicker. After a couple of games you begin to feel how your opponent is going to play. They were tough, especially in the third game. I was thinking if this goes four, it could go five. We needed to stop them in their tracks and get the momentum back on our side. It was definitely on their side in game three."
Johnstown wasted little time getting the momentum back to its side of the net as Hyde, Stock and O'Rourke remained consistent at the service line and Breda again found space in the Eagles' defense to put down kills.
Beekmantown again came back to tie the game at nine, before Alyssa Nellis and Hayward delivered service runs and O'Rourke and Stock went with soft touches over the net to put the Lady Bills back in front 13-10.
The momentum stayed with the Lady Bills as they pulled away and Stock put an exclamation point on the match with a thunderous kill for the final point and a 25-28 victory.
Stock finished the match with 18 kills and 16 digs, while Hyde had 19 assists, 12 kills, 12 digs and two aces and Hayward contributed 14 digs. Jerica Holland finished with 18 assists and three aces, while Nellis came through with five blocks and five digs and Breda had 11 kills and nine digs.
"Hannah [Breda] was a rock star today," McGuire said. "She stepped up her game and did exactly what we needed her to do. Each game and each day in practice she is picking up a new skill. She is enthusiastic and is like a sponge in practice. That is the advantage of having Annie [Stock], everyone knows she is there. They try to make her a focus and she still gets her kills. Knowing who she is doesn't make her life easier. So taking the pressure off by throwing a couple to Hannah definitely helped."
Ryan led the Eagles with 19 kills and two blocks, while Anderson had 12 service points, including five aces, four blocks and six digs. Kendra LaFountain contributed 14 digs, while Michaela LaFountain added 27 assists. Kelly had six kills and eight digs, while Ales had eight digs.
"We have always been more of a defensive team. Fortunately, this past couple of years we have gotten some height on the team," Hileman said. "But against a team like Johnstown, or any Section II team, you cannot give them the first two games. They play ball all year round and they are used to this type of competition every single game. Our girls aren't used to playing at this level every game."
This is the third season for Beekmantown playing volleyball in the fall after playing during the winter season for many years.