It ended, and it didn’t end well.
The Kerens LadyCats, who put together the greatest season in the school’s history and made a run through the state playoffs, saw their season end Tuesday night in a Buffalo gym, where the Kerens fans could be heard all night shouting and grumbling over one horrible call after another.
Balls that were clearly in were called out and other balls that were clearly were out were called in, and as one call after another went against Kerens, Milano, a program that knows all about how to win in the playoffs seized the momentum and the match, sweeping Kerens, 25-19, 25-18, 25-11 to win the Class 1A semifinal round of the playoffs and advance to the regional finals — or Elite 8 round of the state tournament.
It was a nightmare for the Kerens kids who walked off the court in frustration, and for their fans, who couldn’t believe what they were witnessing.
Kerens Coach Kristen Lynch was just sad to see her kids’ season end.
“It was not a good game. It’s one thing when you lose, but it’s not a good thing when you lose like that,’’ Lynch said. “I knew they were a good team and I knew they were smart. I’m not going to say the game was decided by poor officiating.’’
Lynch said she couldn’t tell from her angle about the out of bounds calls that were upsetting the Kerens fans, who had an elevated view of the court and were looking down on the very balls that were subject to the controversial calls.
But she did feel that the calls at the net that went against Kerens hurt her team also, although she didn’t blame the officials.
“I think they called it tighter than we are used to,’’ she said of the calls that went against Kerens at the net. “But this is the region tournament. You have to get through that.’’
Kerens battled all year and at times looked unbeatable. It was clear in the early going Tuesday that Milano didn’t have an answer for Breanna Baxter, who had five kills and four blocks in the opening moments of the match and finished the night with 12 kills and 12 blocks.
Kerens led early in the first two sets, but Milano, which won the District 25-1A title, dug in and battled back, and it appeared in the first two sets that the match might go five sets. But Milano’s 25th point that sealed the second set, 25-18, was one of those out of bounds calls that was blatantly missed and it seemed to define the match itself, which had some good volleys and some great moments from both teams, but was littered with controversial calls.
Milano is now one of eight teams remaining in the Class 1A state tournament with a chance to win it all.
Kerens (27-6) ends a remarkable year that changed the way the community in Kerens looks at volleyball. The LadyCats played in front of the biggest crowds in their history and didn’t disappoint, beating everyone in the District 14-1A race, including perennial state-power Cayuga and earned a state ranking before advancing to the Sweet 16 round of the state tournament.
The success made Tuesday’s loss sting that much more.
“They don’t need to be hanging their heads down after this game,’’ Lynch said of her players. “I don’t want them to carry this onto basketball. I want them to think about the success we had this season and take it to the next sport.’’
Kerens is a state power in basketball and the same kids made an impact in volleyball, a sport that is still new to Kerens.
“We had a great season, a breakthrough season,’’ Lynch said. “We set a lot milestones. This is the furthest we’ve ever gone. We’ve lost twice in the area round and this is the first time we’ve been to the regionals. It says a lot for a young program. We’re only in our sixth year of volleyball. These seniors walked onto a volleyball court when they were in seventh grade and learned to play a game they had never played in their life, and I think they have learned to play it pretty well.’’
The odds are always stacked against towns like Kerens that don’t have a volleyball tradition or year-round volleyball clubs, which train kids when they are young. Those programs have a tremendous advantage because by the time the club kids play high school volleyball they are light years ahead.
Still, Kerens defied those odds to become a force in volleyball.
“I don’t have a single kid on my team who plays club volleyball,’’ Lynch said. “I can’t say enough about my kids. I feel they worked hard for me every day.’’
It was a magical season at Kerens, one that won’t be forgotten, one that rewrote history, and one that put Kerens volleyball on the map.
Kids such as senior Marqueshia Kelly, who ended the night with three kills and ended her career as one of the best big hitters in this part of the state, and senior Taylor Ames, who had 18 assists in her final game to go along with 15 for 18 serving with an ace, were the leaders of the team — on and off the court, and there were many times when the LadyCats were trailing this season that Kelly and Ames lifted the team on the court and lifted them with some inspiring encouragement.
Baxter, who was a phenomenal player all season for Kerens, is a junior and will be back to keep the new tradition alive. Players such as Tinesha Tolliver (12 for 14 serving, 2 aces, 1 kill, 5 blocks), Cambree Betts (4 for 6, 3 blocks), Emmanuella Armant (4 for 4, 2 kills) and libero Kayla Kilcrease (7 for 7, 12 digs) all had their moments in the season finale, and Lynch just wanted her kids to walk away feeling great about everything they had accomplished.
It was a tough loss and a bitter end to a memorable season.
“I’m just proud of all of them,’’ Lynch said. “I want them to feel good about the season and take that good feeling into basketball. We had a great year.’’
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