E.A. Sports Today

Faith shows heart

Lady Lions use an inspired rally in the second set to sweep Westminster-Oak Mountain and reach 1A semifinals tonight at 7:30

Sarah Jessica Christjohn (R) played a big role at the net in Faith Christian’s quarterfinal win over Westminster-Oak Mountain. (All photos by Tony Bedford)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – If Faith Christian goes on to play for the Class 1A state volleyball championship Thursday, the Lady Lions will look back on the second set of Wednesday’s opening match as the vehicle that got them there.

The Lady Lions swept past Westminster-Oak Mountain in their Elite Eight opener 25-14, 30-28, 25-16 at the Birmingham Crossplex. They will play North No. 1 Athens Bible in the semifinals tonight at 7:30.

It was more than a three-set sweep and anything but routine; it was an emotional boomerang. The Lady Lions won the second set with an incredible rally that saw them bounce back from 16-6 down and survive three set points after climbing back into it – without any time outs remaining.

In baseball terms, Sydnee Johnson (20) was Faith Christian’s closer in the Class 1A state quarterfinals.

“When it’s 16-6 you feel kind of hopeless,” senior hitter Nicole Frechette said, “but our coach called a time out, said let’s get the ball back, let’s run some plays and get back in this game. And we started doing that.

“Honestly, it was very reassuring for us (to win the set) because we didn’t want to have to take them to four or five sets. It’s a lot better when you have two sets under your belt to go into the third, so it was good for us.”

The Lady Lions (33-11) fell that far behind after a relatively easy first set because they weren’t moving their feet or communicating, as evidenced by the number of loose balls that fell between their players. Coach Justin Kisor burned his final timeout of the set with his team down 10-4; he called his first at 6-2.

If the Lady Lions were going to come back, they were going to have to do it from within. The Lady Knights certainly weren’t going to call any timeouts with that big a lead and squash their own momentum.

“I just told them how bad do you want it, because you’re not right now looking like you’re wanting to play,” Kisor said. “You’ve got to want it. They don’t just the trophy away; somebody wins the championship. You either win or you don’t.

“Their heart was great. They didn’t tense up when it got tight at the end. I thought we did a great job.”

Kisor, a big Boston Red Sox fan, also told setter Erin Cheek in the pause to “let Nicole eat for a while,’ meaning feed the senior hitter for the kill. After they climbed back into the set, the Lady Lions went to Sydnee Johnson as their Craig Kimbrell to close it out.

Frechette, Johnson and S.J. Christjohn sparked a 12-3 run that brought Faith back to within 19-18 – but the Lady Lions were far from finished.

Westminster pushed the lead back to 21-18, then Johnson scored back-to-back kills and got another to win the serve back and make it 22-21.

“We do that all the time, honestly, I’m not going to lie, especially in these pressure situations,” Frechette said. “We’ll let teams get up on us and we’ll realize now we have to fight twice as hard to come back. We’re good at. We do it.”

A kill by Zana Christjohn finally drew Faith even at 22 and Abby Kazanjian followed with an ace to give the Lady Lions their first lead of the set 23-22. It went back and forth from there.

Westminster-Oak Mountain served for the set a 26-25, 27-26 and 28-27, but each time the Lady Lions survived.

Emily Sills tied it a 28, the Lady Lions went up 29-28 when Westminster returned a shot long and then closed out the match when another return got caught in the net.

“I honestly wasn’t even really worried,” Johnson said, “because we’ve always been down by 10 or 12 before and we came back. We play with so much heart and we’re on fire, and when our heart’s on fire there’s no stopping us, so I knew we were going to come back. But that was incredible.”

Frechette led the Lady Lions with 17 kills. Johnson had seven and S.J. Christjohn had eight. Erin Cheek had 34 assists.

(25-14, 30-28, 25-16)
KILLS – Erin Cheek 3, Nicole Frechette 17, Zana Christjohn 5, Sydnee Johnson 7, Emily Sills 3, S.J. Christjohn 8.
ASSISTS – Erin Cheek 34, Zana Christjohn 1, Sydney Johnson 1.
ACES – Abby Kazanjian 2, Erin Cheek 1.
DIGS – Abby Kazanjian 12, Erin Cheek 6, Nicole Frechette 4, Zana Christjohn 3, Emily Sills 4, S.J. Christjohn 1.
BLOCKS – Zana Christjohn 2, Sydnee Johnson 1, S.J Christjohn 3.

Nicole Frechette punches over one of her 17 kills against Westminster-Oak Mountain.

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