Class 1A regional final at Flanagan with Falcons and Lexington

It was a well-earned victory for Flanagan-Cornell. The Falcons were pushed to three sets on their home floor before finally disposing of Lexington to win the championship of the Class 1A Flanagan-Cornell Regional volleyball tournament Thursday night.
    “What a hard-fought match,” said a very relieved FCHS head coach Joe Estes. “I knew it was going to be back and forth, back and forth the whole night. Luckily, we came out on top.”
    That the Falcons did, by the count of 25-20, 21-25, 25-16 in a match that seemed even closer that the final tally.
    “It feels amazing. The whole I was like ‘gotta want, you gotta want it.’ I wanted it so bad, I think our whole team wanted it so bad,” stated FCHS senior McKenna Roth. “I think that’s what it came down too, it’s so amazing.
    “I’m so proud of this team.”
    As well she should be. Flanagan-Cornell was able to overcome deficits in the first and third sets, and nearly came back from a hole in the middle game. In all, there were four lead changes and 11 ties on the night.
    A lot three of the lead changes and seven of the ties came in the first set as both sides were primed for some heavy hitting. Flanagan-Cornell’s Kayla Van Weelden got things going with a kill on the first play and a block of Lexington standout Jayden Standish on the second to give the Falcons a 2-0 lead.
    A Rachel Harrison kill made it 5-2 but the Minutemen were able to rally. Megan Kelley got the serve and tied the game with an ace. Standish also served an ace that broke a 7-7 tie, and followed with another for Lexington.
    The Minutemen went up 15-10, but Flanagan-Cornell rallied. An ace from Molly Garretson tied it at 18-18. A Roth block made it 20-19 and Harrison went on a service run that involved two LHS timeouts. It was 24-19 when Standish got a kill for a sideout, but an error on the next play ended the first set.
    Then came the second set, where the Minutemen scored the first six points and did not trail.
    “We didn’t give them a huge lead and we were able to work with that, we just kept after it,” Estes said.
    Flanagan-Cornell trailed by as much as 12-3 after a Layken McGuire kill for LHS, and 16-7 after a Tia Hardt ace. But the Falcons were able to chip away and make it close down the stretch. A Regan Reed kill made it 22-19 Lexington late.
    “I knew that second set, Jayden (Standish) was going to come out and try to bring them along with her, and she did,” Estes said. “She brought out all of her swings. Third set, she had some good swings but it was manageable.”
    Standish only had three kills in the second game, but she was heavy on attacks from the front line, as well as in the back row.
    However, Flanagan-Cornell had a rather solid defense all night, especially at the net with Van Weelden and Roth.
    “They’re amazing hitters, I just raised myself up knowing that I have to slow them down because they’re hitting hard,” Roth said.
    Roth had 1 block and Van Weelden collected 4 blocks on the night, but both were able to get hands on the ball and alter shots with their presence.
    “You kind of know when you jump, ‘oh, I’m getting this one. There’s nothing better than that feeling — oh, I got it. It’s just crazy,” Roth added.
    “I ask a lot of those two,” Estes said of Roth and Van Weelden. “They are my only blockers, everyone else drops back in defense. They have to work hard to get out to the pins on the outside hitters, especially Jayden.”
    A tip kill from Standish gave Lexington a 1-0 lead in the rubber game, but Van Weelden answered with a kill as the teams traded points in the first four plays.
    A couple Lexington errors gave the Falcons a 4-2 lead. The Minutemen were able to knot the game at 4-4 after a McGuire block, and at 5-5 before Flanagan-Cornell took the lead for good.
    Roth delivered the go-ahead kill and rejected an attack as the FCHS lead went to 7-5. Hardt and Roth traded kills that sent Roth to the line to serve for the Falcons.
    A six-point service run ensued and Flanagan-Cornell was building momentum.
    “I think we knew we had to kick it into gear. I think that feeling carried us,” Roth said.
    Reed had a kill and Van Weelden made two blocks as the Falcons built a 14-6 lead on the service run. Flanagan-Cornell gradually pulled away.
    “I knew it was going to come down to how well we took care of the ball, how well we kept the ball on our side and protected the serve and were able to get our first contact up to the net so we could run all of our hitters,” said Lexington head coach Kelli Aho. “It wasn’t as crisp as Tuesday, but our opponent was a little bit different.
    “We knew we were going to come in here and have to battle. (We) never gave up, I never saw them get down; they remained focus and took it one point at a time.”
    Van Weelden had the big numbers night, though it was a complete effort that led the Falcons (23-10-1). Van Weelden collected 8 kills and 4 blocks. Roth checked in with 5 kills, 8 service points and a block with Reed also recording 5 kills. Harrison had 4 kills and 6 service points with Garretson and Madelyn Forney each registering 1 kill. Garretson also had 5 points.
    Standish had 11 kills, 7 points (4 aces) and 1 block for the Minutemen (15-20-1). Hardt had 10 kills and McGuire contributed 7 kills and 3 blocks. Gracy Michal and Kelley each collected 1 kill and 5 service points. Michal also had 23 assists. Skyler Friedmansky served up 6 points.
    Flanagan-Cornell will next face Cissna Park Monday in the first match of the Blue Ridge Sectional.