MINERSVILLE — No matter where Courtney Kijek lofted the ball, the Holy Redeemer setter couldn’t escape the towering figure on the other side of the net.
And no doubt, Devon Merritt proved to be quite dominating.
Merritt, who recently signed with Division I James Madison to play basketball, proved she’s not too shabby with a volleyball, either. She finished with a match-high 17 kills and eight blocks, leading Berks Catholic to a 3-0 victory over Holy Redeemer in a PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Minersville High School.
Set scores were 25-15, 25-7 and 25-19.
With the win, Berks advances to Tuesday’s state semifinal to face off with District 1 champ Villa Maria Academy, while Redeemer sees its season come to an end.
“We kind of self-imploded, and I think it was evident,” Redeemer head coach Jack Kablick said. “There’s no doubt that Devon makes a huge difference. That first set, I think they only had like six kills, and won by 10. I think that attributes to our unforced errors. We held their other girls to limited kills. It wasn’t like they were pounding the ball off the floor. We just gave up way too many unforced errors.”
If basketball doesn’t work out for Merritt, the 6-foot-2 middle certainly has a home in volleyball.
More than just crashing swings toward Redeemer’s side, Merritt’s mere size caused issues for the Royals, who had 24 kills as a team.
She seemingly challenged every shot. And when the Royals got the ball past her, it was libero Alexis Leddy digging every shot off the floor.
“When you get to this point of the playoffs, you just want to leave with a win, whether it looks good or bad,” Merritt said. “We wanted to play really well. I was pretty excited. I think we really put it together today with the passes, sets and hits. I think this was one of our best team performances of the year.”
The Royals started out perfectly, leading 13-12 early in the first set – thanks to Brynn Kukosky, Amanda Curcio and Caroline Banas.
That’s when the Saints hit a mammoth run. A spurt that spanned three sets.
From that point, 13-12 in the first set, Berks Catholic won 48 of the next 58 points contested.
The breakdown? A 13-2 run to close the opening stanza. A dominating, 25-7 second set. A 10-1 spurt to start the final game.
It adds up to a 48-10 run.
“One of the biggest keys was in the first set. We were up 13-12 and they sent a free ball over to our side,” Kablick said. “We had them on their heels, and they were starting to doubt themselves. They were starting to get into an iffy situation on their side. And we sent a free ball back over on a free ball. You just can’t do that. Even in the third set, we got it back and missed four of five serves. We’ve hit spots so well all year. Maybe they were trying to do too much, and I can see that. The more you try, the more you force yourself into mistakes.”
Redeemer had a chance in the third set, despite falling down 10-1.
The Royals clawed back in as a cross-court spike by Kukosky capped off a 10-4 run, cutting the deficit back to 14-11. But four service errors put the breaks on the comeback effort, and the Saints answered with their own 10-4 run for a 24-15 edge.
Kablick’s group fought off match point, stringing together three straight points on Ashley Andrejko’s serve, but a ball-handling violation ended the set.
“I’ve been waiting to see our team play like this against a team like Holy Redeemer. And we played really well for nearly three sets. We did get kind of shaky in the final points,” Berks Catholic head coach Rick Fidler said. “You never know what you are going to get. We played well, and I knew we were going to need to. We asked the girls to put strong hands on the attempt every time. I think the defensive players really make a difference in a game like this. I think today was a great example of it. And Devon does change the way people play, whether she causes other hitting errors because of teams changing the way they swing or because of her size.”
Redeemer, which won its ninth straight District 2 title, finished with an overall record of 27-3.
“This is still one of the best teams we’ve ever had at Redeemer,” Kablick said. “We had a great year. We have no regrets.”
Berks Catholic 3, Holy Redeemer 0
Holy Redeemer `15`7`19 – 0
Berks Catholic `25`25`25 – 3
Holy Redeemer leaders: Caroline Banas 7 kills, 2 blocks; Amanda Curcio 7 kills, 1 block, 2 digs; Ashley Andrejko 8 points; Courtney Kijek 16 assists, 4 digs; Brynn Kukosky 4 kills, 3 digs, Lauren Slavoski 4 kills.
Berk Catholic leaders: Devon Merritt 19 kills, 8 blocks; Caitlin Crespo 8 kills; Olivia Blankenbiller 28 assists.