GLENS FALLS - The Johnstown Lady Bills lost only one match in pool play on the opening day of the New York Public High School Athletic Association Class B volleyball championships and that was to Owego Free Academy.
The Lady Bills won their next four pool play games to set up a rematch with Owego in the championship match on Sunday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Johnstown was able to set up solid strikes, but a hustling Indians' defense kept the ball off the floor allowing their hitters to find the openings they needed to sweep past Johnstown 3-0 on game scores of 25-12, 25-11 and 25-12 to claim their first Class B state championship.
The Johnstown Lady Bills display their state finalist plaque after the the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B championship match against Owego Sunday at the Glens Falls Civic Center. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
"Not that we were making mistakes, but they didn't make any mistakes," Johnstown coach Heather McGuire said of Owego. "Yesterday it was clear that they had a great defense. They were getting balls up that were going down all season for my girls. They just kept saying 'What's open? Where's a spot?' There really wasn't a spot open so the credit goes to their defense. They are a really good team and the girls did everything they could to stay with them. but they are the team."
Senior Mary Stetson got Owego off to a fast start, putting her first serve of the match on the floor for an ace to spark a 4-0 game-opening run.
The Indians continued to roll and closed out the opening game 25-12.
Johnstown stayed with the undefeated Section IV champion early in the second game but a mid-game six-point run by Stetson and a pair of kills from Rachel Merrill gave the Indians a 14-7 cushion in the scoring to pull away to a 25-11 victory.
Johnstown's front line challenged the Owego hitters but the Indians adjusted their passing game constantly switching the point of attack.
"We didn't block them as much as we wanted to," McGuire said. "We had 43 blocks against Beekmantown [in the Regional championship] and we were thinking they had height too and we could do this, but they found a way around us. They had a strong lefty right-side hitter and we hadn't seen one of those all season. So adjusting to her was tough."
Johnstown took its only lead of the match on the first service of the third game when Annie Stock tipped a ball over the net that could not be gathered up by the Indians defense.
However, the Lady Bills could not capitalize on the moment as the Indians reagained control of the match with a two-ace service run from Carrie Farr and a 12-point run from Paige Shaughnessy to build their lead to 17-5.
Johnstown fought back with strong net play including three kills from Hannah Breda and another from Stock to trim the lead to 21-12.
Farr pushed the ball into an opening to get a side out. Merrill capped off Owego's championship with back-to-back kills for 25-12 win.
"We kept saying we were getting the ball up and we were getting it to our setter and we are hitting the ball over, we just need to find a way to get the ball down," McGuire said. "We had a short burst of kills then they adjusted. We just kept trying to get the ball down."
For the match Merrill had seven kills and two blocks, while Farr had 25 assists and four aces and Kim Lavender added 11 kills and five blocks for Owego.
Breda finished the match with five kills, while Stock had three kills and seven digs. Alyssa Nellis had seven kills and 18 digs, while Madison Smrtic contributed 23 digs and Jerica Holland added eight digs and six assists.
"I thought we came prepared and we were ready for the tournament," Lady Bills co-captain Nellis said. "Owego is a great team and they brought it. We did too, but we couldn't answer. Their defense was awesome. It feels great that after 14 straight losses here we broke the curse and won a game."
Nellis was referring to the Lady Bills going 0-12 in their first two trips to the state tournament and dropping the opening two games of this year's tournament to Owego on Saturday.
"We just worked hard they are a very good team," co-captain O'Rourke said. "We played our hearts out but that team is very good. I am going to miss everyone on this team. I am just really proud to be a part of it all."
Stock and Holland were named to the all-tournament team for the Lady Bills, while Merrill was named the tournament MVP. She was joined by Farr and Lavender as all-tournament team players for Owego.
"Annie Stock and Jerica Holland are both juniors and will be back next year," McGuire said. "I will be losing my two big middles and captains, Alyssa Nellis and Brianne O'Rourke. They were one of the reasons we got here because of their great blocking game."
Other senior members of the Lady Bills include Leasha Lopez-Gonzalez, Meghan Ledoux, Kadisha Vazquez and Kaitlyn Duesler, who was awarded the Section II sportsmanship award for Johnstown in on Saturday.