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Rocky River volleyball: Pirates travel long road to share of GLC title



It has been a long road for Rocky River, but the Pirates finally have the conference championship that has eluded them for 31 years.

After losing to Holy Name in a five-set thriller Sept. 12, Rocky River went on to win out its Great Lakes Conference matches and controlled its own destiny in the final week of the regular season with a much-anticipated rematch at Holy Name and a final road game against Normandy on the schedule.

The Pirates did what they were unable to do twice before, once in tournament play and once in conference play, and beat the Green Wave, 3-2, before traveling to Normandy Oct. 10 and sweeping the host Invaders to claim a share of the GLC title.

It has been a long time coming for Rocky River whose head coach, Karlee Bruck, wasn’t even alive the last time the Pirates won a conference championship.

“I was just telling the girls, I was like, ‘I’m only 28 years old. The last conference championship I wasn’t even alive yet,’ ” Bruck said after the win at Normandy. “Yeah, that was definitely really cool.”

In her three years as head coach, Bruck has never had more than two seniors on her roster. Five of the 12 players on the 2017 roster have been with Bruck since the beginning, and the journey from Bruck’s first year in 2015 to now hasn’t always been easy.

The Pirates finished 9-14 overall (3-7 GLC) in 2015 and 13-10 (9-3) last season, steadily improving over the course of a year, and Callie Cmiel, the lone senior on this year’s team, said the connections she and her teammates have forged over the last three years played a tremendous role in getting the Pirates where they are today, certainly as much as any skills they have developed.

“It helps so much,” Cmiel said. “Now that we’ve been working together — this is at least three years that all of us have been together — we can really practice and instead of going right into open gyms in the summer, we can just get right into it instead of working on building connections because we already have them.”

Junior Ava Rauser, a three-year letterwinner for Rocky River, added the transition wasn’t exactly easy, having such a young team, but the turnaround from the end of last season to the near-end of 2017 has been rewarding for those who have been around the program.

“We’ve really jelled as a team,” Rauser said. “We had some new girls come up, we had a freshman filling in a pretty big role on our team so it was definitely a little bit rough adjusting at first, but we all ended up doing a great job working together and we really communicated well towards the end and worked hard to get here.”

“It’s incredible,” Cmiel added. “As a freshman playing, (a conference title) wasn’t even in reach. Like, it wasn’t even a goal for us because it was just so far, but now that we have such a great team, it was our goal throughout the whole season to get this and I can’t believe we did it.”

Now the Pirates turn their focus to the postseason, which is sure to be another difficult journey.

Third-seeded Rocky River will play in Division II’s Parma Heights bracket, earning a first-round bye before facing the winner of No. 11 Keystone and No. 6 Bay.

The top two seeds in the Parma Heights bracket?

None other than Holy Name at No. 2 and Padua, the state’s top-ranked team in D-II, at No. 1.

“We’re going to have to take it one day at a time,” Bruck said. “We looked at the bracket and we know we’re in a very tough place, so just one day at a time, focus on skills, focus on sharpening things up and mentally prepare.”

“We’re all so excited,” Rauser added. “We’re all hyped. I don’t think our seeding is really accurate of how well we can do and I think we have a shot of at least competing (for a district title).”

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Article source: http://www.morningjournal.com/sports/20171011/rocky-river-volleyball-pirates-travel-long-road-to-share-of-glc-title

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