ORWELL — Grand Valley and Cardinal have a knack for getting in each other’s way.
The Mustangs eliminated Cardinal from postseason play in 2016 and 2017. The Huskies repaid the favor in last year’s district semifinal and once again stood in GV’s way on Tuesday night in Orwell.
Having already clinched at least a share of the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title, the Mustangs hosted the Huskies with a chance to win the championship outright.
GV outscored Cardinal 109-106 in the tightly contested five-set match, but the visitors found a way to win the fifth set 15-13 for a 3-2 victory — 25-23, 22-25, 19-25, 25-23, 15-13.
“We just had a couple young girls out there who aren’t used to playing at this speed all the time and it showed,” said GV coach Anna Applebee, whose team is not only still trying to make up for the loss of Brandy Smith, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the year, but also Madison Roskos, who left Tuesday’s match in the second set. “There’s nothing they can do about it, but it showed a little bit and I think that really was the difference.”
The Mustangs had their fair share of chances in the opening set, but caught a little bad luck on a handful of blocks that fell the wrong way.
They did not help themselves in the second set and lost five points on serves, but rallied from a 15-11 deficit to even the match at one set apiece.
They carried that momentum into the next two sets and sat five points away from a victory with a 20-18 advantage in the fourth. GV later held a 12-10 and 13-12 lead in the fifth set, but the Huskies closed scored the final three points to win the match.
While the Mustangs hoped for sole possession of the title, a 3-0 win at Wickliffe last Thursday clinched at least a share of their fifth consecutive conference championship and their first in the CVC — they won the Northeastern Athletic Conference title every year from 2015-18 before switching conferences.
Senior Rylie Pucel, who is now 4 for 4 when it comes to conference titles in her high school career, did not downplay the importance of continuing the program’s streak of success, especially in the new CVC.
“It’s huge for us,” she said. “We are doing so good and everybody is playing together really well this year and we’re all getting along.”
Applebee, who is now 2 for 2 since taking over the program prior to last season, called it “crazy.”
“You go into the season hoping to win your league, but it’s also not necessarily the forefront,” she said. “You go game to game, you want to win each game and you just want your players to do the best that they can do. So seeing their best efforts, their best skill level and being the winners of their league is really cool.”
The Mustangs have one more match left — today at St. John — before entering tournament play.
They are the No. 4 seed and will receive a bye into the sectional final around where, barring an upset, they will take on Cardinal for the third time this season.
GV won the first meeting 3-1 on Sept. 12.
“I’m excited,” Pucel said. “We played them at the beginning of the season and now that we’re at the end, we know what they’re capable of and we know how to plan better.”
Applebee said the potential finale to this year’s trilogy of matches will be “challenging, for sure.”
“They’re a strong team, we just have to come ready to play,” she said. “We have to clean up a few mistakes here and there, really get some passing things down, like serve-receive, but I think we can come back. We can definitely give them a run for their money. I’m excited to re-do this game.”
Barbara Jackson recorded a team-high 21 kills on Tuesday and Alexis Cooper led the way with 22 assists.
Pucel had 27 digs, 19 assists and 16 kills. Hallie Soltis contributed 20 points, three aces, 17 digs and three blocks.