Jonathan Alder seniors, from left, Ava Francis, Kennady Izzard and Emma Shepherd are pictured in action during volleyball matches from the 2020 season. They will help lead the Lady Pioneers into Friday’s 10 a.m. Division II state semifinal match at Vandalia-Butler High School. Alder will face Chardon Notre Dame Cathedral-Latin. (Journal-Tribune photos by Sam Dillon and Tim Miller)
For the first time in five years, the Jonathan Alder volleyball squad has earned a berth in the Division II state Final Four.
The Lady Pioneers (22-0) earned that spot with a 3-1 victory on Saturday over Thornville Sheridan in the regional semifinals.
It was only the Generals’ second loss of the season in 29 matches.
Jonathan Alder will play in the state semifinals on Friday, 10 a.m., at Vandalia-Butler High School.
The state Final Four had previously been held at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
The facility is unavailable to the Ohio High School Athletic Association this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Lady Pioneers will face a semifinal opponent that is familiar to the JA program.
Alder will face Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.
The Lions are the team that defeated JA five years ago for the D-II state championship.
“Even though none of these girls were old enough for high school volleyball back then, they realize Cathedral Latin beat Jonathan back in 2015,” said JA head coach Joe Ross.
“The girls was excited to play that school once again,” he said. “I think the fact they beat us in 2015 will give the girls a little extra motivation.”
Ross said he watched a brief portion of tape on the Lions prior to Monday afternoon’s practice.
“They are a pretty complete team,” he said. “They are talented in all areas.”
The Lions (13-5) are led by Caroline Jurevicius, a 6-1 sophomore hitter who has 241 kills to date this season.
“There are already several Big Ten schools who are looking at her,” said Ross. “She is going to be a tough test for us.”
Missy Sterkel, a senior, is second on the squad with 140 kills.
Ross said the Lady Pioneers are going to need to keep their blockers in solid spots on the floor to combat the Lions’ strong hitting.
The Alder coach also wants to see improvement in his own team’s hitting.
“We didn’t hit the ball that well against Thornville,” admitted Ross. “We went into the match hitting a solid .254 percentage.
“We hit only .157 against Sheridan and that’s the first time all year we were under .200,” he said. “We made more hitting errors in that match than we have all year.”
“We’ve got to correct our hitting mistakes,” said Alder senior Ava Francis, who has 352 kills on the season. “We’ve got to swing our hits better against their blocks.”
“I think we were a little nervous against Sheridan,” said senior Emma Shepherd. “I noticed early they had very strong blocks.
“We just have to stick to what we do best,” she said. “We can’t over-swing on our hits.”
Ross has said for the past few weeks that the further teams go in the post-season, the stronger passing and serving games must be.
“Although we had a lot of hitting errors against Sheridan, our passes to our setters eventually helped our hitters,” he said.
“We need to keep our minds on our passing and serving,” said senior defensive specialist Kennady Izzard. “We can’t let the ball hit the ground and we have to keep playing within our system.”
A few months ago, the Lady Pioneers, who were regional runners-up in 2019, weren’t sure they would have a 2020 season.
“We had several zoom meetings during the month of March because of the coronavirus,” said Francis. “We weren’t sure at that time if we’d even have a season.”
The seniors said the Lady Pioneers took a number of precautions to stay safe during COVID-19.
“We didn’t go to a lot of summer celebrations, such as the Fourth of July,” said Shepherd. “We worked hard during the summer to make sure we could get through it all and have a season.”
“We avoided a lot of fun activities,” said Izzard. “Everybody wanted to go to a haunted house for Halloween, but we didn’t.
“We avoided some fun stuff,” she said. “We did that, however, for bigger fun stuff like playing in the state Final Four.”