BOARDMAN - If Salem would have played its first two sets like it did it last, the outcome of Thursday night's Division II district final might have been different.
While the Quakers were left to do the speculating, the Cardinals were doing the celebrating after Canfield turned away Salem in three sets (25-12, 25-14, 25-19) in Thursday's District final held at Boardman High School.
"I really thought all three games would be like the last one," Salem coach Don Conser said. "I thought win or lose we would fight. We just put ourselves behind the eight ball. We just didn't look like ourselves in those first two games."
Canfield (24-1) breezed through the first and second sets. Salem (24-2) stood tall briefly in the opening game, but fell behind quickly in the second as the Cardinals pulled ahead 11-2. The closest Salem would get to Canfield in the middle set was six points away. Strong outside hitting by the Cardinals - Abby Malsch finished with 19 kills and 13 points - and the Salem's inability to finish plays proved too ugly a combination for Salem to overcome.
"We just couldn't get anything started in those first two games," Conser continued. "Their (Canfield's) outside hitters probably hurt, but we didn't help ourselves. When a team wins the way Canfield did tonight, you can say they had a good night or we had a bad one. I think they had a very good night. We obviously didn't."
The third game was different. It was the Quakers who jumped out on top. Salem scored the first three points and eventually led 5-1 as the Quakers' big hitters seemed to find their game. Still, it wasn't enough. The Cardinals front line took over and Canfield took the lead on its 17th point. The Cardinals never trailed again.
"We just didn't come through at critical moments in a critical game," Conser said. "This was the worst we've played all season."
Malsch also had 13 digs and two blocks for the Cardinals who advance to regional play. Rachel Rafoth chipped in 12 points and 16 digs. Sabrina Mangapora added 12 kills and eight digs. Ellie Rafoth came up with 43 assists and four digs.
Alexis Smith led the Quakers with 13 kills. Lindsey Foster stepped up with six kills and a block. Becca Devlin had three blocks.
Smith, Devlin, Cassie Davidson and Kayleigh Null all played their final game as Quakers.
"We have four senior players and I know they all wanted to win this really bad," Conser said. "But we had a great year. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that we we're only going to lose two games, I would have chuckled and told you we weren't that good, but these girls pulled together and played well and they won 24 games. And they won 24 games because of what they did not because of what their coach did."
As for their coach, he's not talking retirement just yet. When asked about the rumors that he'll call it quits now that the season is over, Conser flashed a grin.
"Those are just rumors," he said adding a wink.