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Canfield sweeps Fitch; earns share of title

AUSTINTOWN — With the All-American Conference Red Tier title up for grabs, it was the Canfield Cardinals that gave themselves at least a share of the title Tuesday night with a 3-0 sweep of the Austintown Fitch Falcons, 25-14, 25-17, 25-17.

Canfield can win the title outright if it beats Boardman on Thursday.

“It’s very exciting,” Canfield coach Maria Householder said. “When we lost to Howland earlier this season, it was in jeopardy, it was definitely in jeopardy. Then, when Austintown beat Howland after that, we were in a better spot.

“We just have to finish it out. We don’t try to take any game for granted. We knew they were ready for us. They took a set from us last time we played them.”

It didn’t play out like it did Sept. 19 when the Falcons took the second set of a match they eventually lost in four sets.

Initially, it seemed it would play out differently when Fitch (15-6, 5-2) jumped out to an early 6-2 lead. But the Cardinals (16-5, 6-1) cleaned up their passing and outscored the Falcons 23-8 the rest of the way in the first set.

“We started out a little bit rough with our passing,” Householder said. “I think everybody just stepped up their game. I think our passes got where they needed to be so our setters could get where they needed to be. We were able to put it away.”

That momentum carried into the second set as Canfield jumped out to a 5-0 advantage before Fitch tied it up.

“I think our passing wasn’t what we needed it to be,” Fitch coach Jody Bartlett said. “It made it difficult for us to run plays and hit the ball.”

The Falcons were led by Chelsie Wheeler’s six kills and Emma Bartlett’s 10 assists. Ella Sahli and Alyssa Leskovac each had 10 digs.

The second set started as a back-and-forth affair with Canfield holding a 13-10 lead before the Cardinals pushed their game to another level which caused the Falcons fits as they dropped the second set.

“They just outsmarted us, that’s what it came down to,” Bartlett said. “They were very smart in their placement, where they hit the ball. They saw the block and hit around it. They were very aggressive at the net. We were struggling.”

That was the modus operandi for Canfield throughout the match as the third set stayed back-and-forth for the most part, but when it came to those crucial moments, Canfield seemed to have the answer time and time again.

The Cardinals were led by Grace Mangapora, who came into the match with 217 kills, and Alexis Mettille who had 153 kills on the season. Couple that with assists leaders Jenna Delisio and Sydney Kinkade and it becomes obvious why they present so many problems for the opposition.

“Our theme a little bit is grind it out,” Householder said. “So when its tight and when it’s close, we try not to mentally break down because we can fix skill, we can fix passing, we can fix hitting, we can adjust offense and defense, but mentally, if you break down, its kind of over. That’s one of the things we’ve been working on in the last couple of years, is staying mentally strong. We can fix the skill part if we are lacking in it.”

The Cardinals will look to take this play into the tournament where they earned the No. 2 seed in the Division II district at West Branch. Canfield is ranked 13th in the Division II coaches poll.

“We’re ready for the tournament,” Householder said. “We’re just plowing ahead. Everybody we’re playing from here on in is just someone in our way to what our goal is. They’re just ready. We’ve got a good road. We have high goals. Our first goal is to win district. We haven’t won it since 2012.

“It’s not a one-person game. Everybody relies on everybody. We’ve got great girls that can put a ball down. We have a lot of weapons.”