By Lisa Byers
Sheila Bancroft has coached in a number of first round PIAA state playoff matches throughout her tenure as the Maplewood girls volleyball head coach. But Tuesday’s match against West Shamokin may go down as one of the strangest.
“Flat. Sloppy,” Bancroft said of the Lady Tigers’ Class A first round match at Cochranton High School.
“I turned to (assistant coach) Angela (Groshner) at one point and said, ‘This is a weird match,’” Bancroft continued. “We just never really got into a hard flow of the game.”
Bancroft’s Lady Tigers, however, did what they have all season long. They battled. They scrapped. And the end result was a 22-25, 25-11, 25-20, 25-23 win over the Wolves, Maplewood’s 18th straight victory.
With the win, Maplewood advances to the state quarterfinals where it will face District 9 champion Clarion, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. But for the first time, that quarterfinal match will not be played at the site of the state championship match — another strange spin on last night’s contest.
The quarterfinal match is set for noon Saturday at Sharpsville High School.
“It used to be you won and that was it,” Bancroft said. “You were on a chartered bus and headed to the states. That’s not the case. I feel bad for the girls because they don’t get that experience, but I told them after the match, I said, ‘Now you only have to win two more to get to the state championship match. Before you had to win four.’”
And after its match against West Shamokin, the Lady Tigers should be prepared for just about anything.
West Shamokin was whistled 11 times for double contact. Four of those violations came in the opening set, but the Wolves were able to overcome them and rally for a 25-22 win.
That wasn’t the case later on.
In Game 2, West Shamokin had three ball handling errors. Two of those miscues came during a 7-0 run by the Tigers that gave them a 16-6 lead.
“I think that we have been receiving higher caliber officials as the season went along,” West Shamokin coach Justin Nolder said. “And they started calling (double contact).
“I don’t want to say that we were not doing that throughout the season. We were. We just were not seeing playoff caliber officials who were simply not calling it during the regular season. That came back to bite us.”
West Shamokin’s cleanest effort came in the final set, which it nearly stole away from the Tigers.
Maplewood jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the fourth game and after big runs by Emily Merritt and Taylor Smith at the service line extended that lead to 10 (18-8). But with the score 20-10, things started to unravel for the Tigers.
A kill by 6-foot senior outside hitter Jillian Glover, back-to-back attack errors by Maplewood and a Glover ace, pulled the Wolves to within six (20-14).
That lead shrunk to just one (24-23) on another kill by Glover.
“We’re 18-8 in the fourth game and I think I called timeout shortly after that,” Bancroft said. “And I told them, ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this and you shouldn’t either right now.’ They got momentum. They weren’t quitting. They had excitement. And they had a lot more offense.
“We didn’t have a lot of offense (last night). Thank goodness Madalyn (Nicols) had a good night.”
It was Nicols who setter Jaricka Simmerman went to in the end. And it was Nicols who delivered with the match-winning kill — her 23rd kill of the match — to keep the Tigers’ season going. Maplewood is now a perfect 18-0.
“It’s so exciting,” Nicols said. “It feels great, especially since we lost a very important player (Ashley Myers) on our team earlier in the season. It’s nice to know that we can still come out and play.”
Nicols also had 14 service points and nine digs. Kendra Turner added 13 kills. Merritt finished with 24 digs. Simmerman dished out 33 assists, while Smith tallied seven digs.