Shelby Kersten has a lot of volleyball ahead of her, considering she’s just a sophomore.
It will still be pretty hard to top this season, as one of the finest years Alden has had just got a little better Monday night.
The Alden Bulldogs followed up their first Section VI girls volleyball title since 1998 by capturing the overall Class B crown at Sweet Home High School. They did it by fending off a young, but determined East Aurora crew, 25-22, 25-22, 20-25, 26-28, 25-21, before an estimated crowd of more than 500.
A blend of youth and experienced proved to be a winning mixture for the Bulldogs (20-2), who return to action Wednesday night at Chittenango High School outside of Syracuse in a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association sub-regional match against the Section III champion.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team,” said Kersten, who recorded 13 kills and eight blocks. “This will be one of my favorite seasons even though I’m just starting my high school career.”
“Last week (winning the Class B-2 title) was definitely a great feeling but that moment doesn’t compare,” said senior Alexandria Alteri, who finished with 17 kills and three blocks. “To be this far with my girls is an incredible feeling.”
It’s a feeling that earned the right to experience by holding it together after Class B-1 champ East Aurora, which graduates just one senior off its 12-athlete roster, rallied from 2-0 deficit and fended off two championship-clinching points during a nerve-racking fourth set.
In that set, an Alteri kill gave the Bulldogs a 25-24 lead but EA tied it when on a service error. After a Blue Devils gaffe gave Alden another chance to close it out, EA scored the final three points with Julia Halsey ending it with one of her nine kills for the match.
The Blue Devils raced to early leads of 5-1 and 7-3 in the final set, but the Bulldogs regained their bearings. Back to back points off blocks by Kersten tied it at 9-9. Anna Dussault followed with a kill to put Alden ahead as it never trailed the rest of the match.
Still, with the final set tied 18-18, a pair of EA hitting errors sparked Alden’s 7-3 closing run.
“This is one of the toughest teams mentally I’ve ever coached,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Steinel said. “I knew that they would rebound. … The true leadership came out that fifth game. We made some big plays at the right moments.”
“That fifth game was a dog fight,” Blue Devils coach Rebecca Jacobs said. “Now that our girls have a taste of sectionals and know what to expect, hopefully we can prepare them to come back.”
Neither team could shake the other in this one, even when it seemed like one was about to go on an extended run. Alden’s came at the right times, though, as it used a 6-0 run to close out the first set behind the service of senior Brooke Strausbaugh. Kersten also had two kills during the blitz.
Another run on Strausbaugh’s serve enabled Alden to stretch a four-point lead to 21-12 but it still took a nice touch kill by Kersten to clinch that set.
The overall Class C final between reigning state champions Eden (Class C) and Portville (Class D) did not end in time for this edition. The winner of that match also advances to sub-regional round of the state tournament against the Section III champion at Chittenango.
Emma Wlostowski added 12 digs on defense for Alden, while Anne Kocher had 10 kills and 10 digs.
“We relied on each other and we really played like a family,” Alteri said. “That’s what won this for us.”