SLIPPERY ROCK —
For the first time in 28 years, Erie County will be represented in the girls volleyball state championships.
Fort LeBoeuf ended that drought on Tuesday with a 19-25, 25-23, 12-25, 25-13, 15-3 win over Mars in the PIAA Class AA semifinals at Slippery Rock University.
The Bison are now headed to Central York High School for the Class AA title match. Fort LeBoeuf will face Delone Catholic at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Delone Catholic topped Pope John Paul II 25-22, 25-14, 17-25, 19-25, 15-13.
“I’m really proud of the fact that it is Fort LeBoeuf that ended that drought,” LeBoeuf head coach LeAnn Byer said, “and that I could help us get into that situation. But it’s more about the school making a name for itself in volleyball and being more of a name outside of our region.”
Fort LeBoeuf’s 20th victory of the season was an interesting one.
The Bison dropped the first set by six points and fell behind early in the second set before rallying for a 25-23 win to even the match at a set apiece.
But Fort LeBoeuf couldn’t sustain momentum, and the Fighting Planets rolled to an easy 25-12 win in the third set, the Bison’s worst single-set loss in dual match play this season.
“It was scary,” Byer said. “We had a rough time putting our nerves aside and just playing the game. We did a lot of being scared and emotional and playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
With its season in jeopardy, though, Fort LeBoeuf turned it up a notch, outscoring Mars by 24 points the rest of the way en route to the five-set victory.
It was Fort LeBoeuf’s first five-set match in three years, according to Byer.
“I was very nervous going into that fifth game, because we hadn’t been there in so long,” Byer said. “I just told them, I said, ‘Let’s play to five. Then let’s play to 10. Then let’s play to 15. Attack it one step at a time.’
“We made some better plays blocking which helped our defense. And our offense follows that. I have to give credit to our two middle blockers Caitlin Ebert and Jolene Young for that.”
Maria Peluso led the unbeaten Bison (20-0) with 15 kills and six digs. Larissa Cass added 10 kills, while Young chipped in with six. Abby Rose dished out 29 assists. Allania Banta and Courtney Oberlander had seven digs each.
Mars, the WPIAL champion, ended its season at 20-3.
Fort LeBoeuf is in the state final for the first time in program history and is the 20th District 10 team in history to compete for a state crown. The Bison are looking to become the eighth team from District 10 to win a state title in girls volleyball and the first ever from Erie County.
No team from Erie County has competed in the state final since the fall of 1984 when Seneca and Iroquois finished as runner-ups in Class AAA and AA, respectively.
This marks the fifth year since 2004 that District 10 has had a team in a state championship match. District 10 has three titles during that span.
“In that third set, I was kind of looking at my team and said, ‘Where is my team? Please bring them back. Get them back here.’ They were just so different,” Byer said. “I didn’t know if we could make it through that or how we did make it through that.
“It took a lot of heart.”