GATES — The Victor Blue Devils shot out to leads of 6-1 and 9-2 in the first set of the Section V Class AA girls volleyball championship at Gates Chili.
But Penfield didn’t go 105-2 in sets this fall by panicking. The Patriots have a way of modifying that great old song by the band, Journey. Their refrain: “Don’t Start Believing.”
After that hiccup at the start, the top seeds took control and never really let go of the wheel, beating second-seeded Victor 25-17, 25-19 and 25-19 to win Penfield’s first title since 2014 and third in six years.
“We just all took a deep breath and said, ‘We’ve got to get our crap together. We’re going to do this, so we might as well start now,” Patriots senior setter Alea Steigerwald said about the slow start. “Even if we were down 9-1, 20-1, I knew we were going to come back. I have such faith in my team.”
The Patriots (18-0) are ranked sixth in the nation and have their sights set on a state championship. Victor, which also was swept in the regular season by Penfield, finished 15-4.
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“That was a huge challenge for us. We really haven’t been down that much at all the entire season,” coach Andrew Solomon said. “(It was good) for the girls to show their composure and not panic.”
Victor (15-4) was the Class A2 champion but moved up in class this fall. Penfield was a semifinalist last year, but returned most of its team. That experience and firepower was on full display Friday. After trailing 16-11 in the first set, the Patriots came at the Victor in waves.
Senior libero Jamie Rogers took over serving at that point and didn’t stop until Penfield was up 24-17. She reeled off 13 straight points, as senior hitters Emily Harnischfeger (5-foot-9) and Johanna Gregory (6-2) and junior Elisabeth Lawatsch took turns pounding kills to the floor off sets by Steigerwald, the setter who was named an honorable mention All-American this week.
Steigerwald was named tournament MVP and teammates Lindsay Hernady and Harnischfeger were named all-tournament team. Steigerwald had 38 assists and 15 digs. Hernady had 11 kills and Harnischfeger had 16 kills and 10 digs.
For Victor, junior Amanda Dake had 16 kills and six digs and Emily Weed had 18 assists. Dake and senior libero Linnah DeLong were named all-tournament team.
When the Patriots bomb squad wasn’t busy unleashing spikes, they got busy blocking. Sophomore Sarah Green and senior Lindsay Hernady combined on a block against Victor standout Amanda Dake and that gave Penfield its first lead, 17-16.
Victor hung with Penfield into the teens of the second set, but the Patriots played the big points better down the stretch and Gregory’s emphatic spike to the floor from the middle ended the set.
The Blue Devils hung in there again in the third set, but Penfield gained separation late again and when Green spike the last ball the floor it was over. Victor coach Matt Glover said his team’s mindset was that it had to take the first set and if it did “we might have a shot here,” he said.
But it didn’t happen.
“They’re led by a senior-dominant team and Alea’s a great leader on that team and she’s not going to let her team fall,” Glover said.