CONNELLSVILLE TWP. -- Last season Geibel Catholic’s girls volleyball team watched as Carmichaels celebrated clinching its first every section championship on the Lady Gators' home floor.
The two met again in another key Section 2-A match at the Swamp on Thursday night and this time it was Geibel rejoicing at the end after earning a 3-0 win over the Lady Mikes in a battle of unbeaten teams.
All three sets were close but each went to the Lady Gators (6-0, 6-0), 25-20, 26-24 and 25-21. Lauren Tomasko led the way for Geibel with 19 kills and 14 digs, and Shannon Watkins totaled 31 assists, eight digs and seven service points.
“Shannon and Lauren, I said at the beginning, we're going to build around those two,” said Lady Gators coach Rick Watkins, who is Shannon's father. “If everybody does their job and lets those two do what they do, we'll be OK.”
The cast around the two Geibel stars has changed throughout the year, which made the win over Carmichaels all that more impressive to Watkins.
“We've been swimming upstream all season,” Watkins said. “We lose a couple kids here, get one here, then lose another one. We had four girls out there basically coming up from junior high. It's just hard to believe on the varsity level that they could come together like that but they did what they had to do.
“I've got to give all my girls credit. They just work so hard.”
Carmichaels led the first set 9-6 when Geibel, riding the serve of Makenzie Garred, reeled off nine consecutive points to go up 15-9 and went on to take a 1-0 lead.
The Lady Gators led by as much as six points in the second set before the Lady Mikes fought back and pulled even at 23-23 and again at 24-24 after a kill by Taylor Christopher, but Geibel took the last two points for a 2-0 advantage.
Watkins’ squad never trailed in the third set although it held a precarious 23-21 lead until Tomasko’s kill pulled the Lady Gators within one point of victory and they closed it out on the next serve.
“The mistakes on our end were what killed us tonight,” said Carmichaels coach Julianne Speeney, who is filling in for her sister, Ashley Shoemaker, who took the season off after recently having her first child. “I felt we didn't handle the ball as well as we normally do. It all comes down to unforced errors. Too many missed serves, not taking care of the ball, hit too many out.”
Speeney, a former assistant at Geibel under Watkins, felt her team also could have played with more passion.
“Our energy tonight wasn't there in my eyes,” Speeney said. “I think the girls agree with that as well. But you've got to bounce back from these types of things.”
Christopher led the Lady Mikes (5-1, 5-1) with 12 kills and Emma Hyatt had seven kills. Nicole Ludrosky contributed six kills and eight digs, and Carmichaels also got 13 assists from Alexandra McGee, nine assists from Sydney Kuis and nine digs from Abbey Fordyce.
Watkins felt his team’s play against Christopher was key.
“You have to try to limit Taylor Christopher,” Watkins said. “You've got to try to keep the ball deep and make sure it's hard to get the ball to her, because she the Terminator.”
While the Lady Mikes were mistake-prone most of the night, Geibel limited its errors, anticipated well and was fundamentally sound for the most part against its taller opponent.
“The very first day I told our girls we're going to be short so the key to our game is going to be ball control,” Watkins said. “We've got to make sure we're putting balls in play. We're going to take big swings when we can, we're going to put balls where they need to go.
"Tonight we kept serves in. We did a really nice job of serving.”
Garred led the Lady Gators with nine service points and Kennedi Stockey had seven to go along with 10 kills and five digs. Geibel also got six digs from Becca Perkins and five from Garred.
The two will meet again at Carmichaels on Oct. 15.
“We've got to go to their place so if you don't hold serve at home, you're in trouble,” Watkins said.
The Lady Mikes are capable of playing much better, according to Speeney, who hopes that will show through on their home court.
“We'll get that other shot at our place,” she said.