By Lisa Byers
The Meadville Tribune
October 24, 2012 7:00 a.m. COCHRANTON —
Maplewood is always considered a threat to win a region championship in girls volleyball.
But this year Tigers’ head coach Sheila Bancroft wasn’t so sure her team had a fighting chance, particularly after losing senior Ashley Myers for the season due to a knee injury.
“Not at all,” she said. “I really just didn’t think we had enough fire power. And then when Ashley went down I thought we went from being a very good team to a mediocre team.”
Instead of accepting mediocrity, though, the Lady Tigers opted to work even harder. The result has been a pretty successful season — one that now includes a Region 2 championship and a quarterfinal round bye in the District 10 Class A tournament which begins Tuesday at Meadville Area Senior High School.
Maplewood, ranked seventh in the state in Class AA by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, clinched the Region 2 title on Tuesday with a 25-19, 25-21, 22-25, 25-19 win over 10th-ranked Cochranton.
The Tigers improved to 13-0 overall and in Region 2. Cochranton fell to 11-2 overall and in region play.
“Ashley was a key loss to us,” Bancroft said. “You put her back out on the floor and that makes a world of difference. But those other players have stepped up and that has made the difference.”
It certainly did on Tuesday night.
Maplewood got its usual solid performances from sophomore Madalyn Nicols, who finished the match with 23 kills, and senior Kendra Turner, who finished with 11 kills. But senior Laura Kirk and juniors Jessa Covine and Lauren Proper had Cochranton’s defense on its toes.
Kirk finished with 11 kills and Proper, making her first start of the season, added seven.
“We did much better,” Bancroft said of spreading the ball around offensively. “I thought Laura Kirk, Lauren Proper and Jessa Covine … Those players haven’t really stepped up all season long. It was a nice time, tonight, for them to do that.”
Kirk said the excitement of the match played a key role in their success.
“I think it was the excitement,” she said. “Everyone wanted to do their part. Jessa got us some key kills on the weak side. That was big. We all just came together.”
The first set was an exciting one. Maplewood led by as many as three (12-9) early on, but the Cardinals rallied to tie it at 12-12 and kept within a point of the Tigers until a 3-0 run gave Maplewood a 19-16 lead. A pair of hitting errors by the Cards allowed Maplewood to extend that lead to five — a deficit too large for Cochranton to make up.
“So many unforced errors,” Cochranton coach Marci Malliard said. “You can’t beat a good team with that many errors.”
The errors continued to hurt the Cards in the second set and gave the Tigers a 4-0 advantage from the get-go. That lead climbed to as many as seven (14-7). Cochranton did rally late, but it was enough to avoid going down two sets to the Tigers.
The Cardinals did respond and made things exciting with a 25-22 win in the third set. But nearly identical to Game 2, Cochranton opened the fourth set with a pair of hitting errors that helped give Maplewood a 3-0 start.
Cochranton did eventually take a 7-6 lead. A service error tied the game at 7-7 and Maplewood took the lead for good on a kill by Kirk.
“We can’t do the same old thing time after time after time and we do,” Malliard said. “I can’t get them to change how we take the ball over the net. We just can’t do the same thing. You have to keep teams wondering. We don’t do that.”
Cochranton lost its shot at a opening round bye in the District 10 tournament, but will advance to the postseason. The Cardinals will play Tuesday at 4 p.m. at MASH against an opponent yet to be determined. It is Malliard’s hope that the Cardinals will come out Tuesday night with a vengeance.
“It should give them a little extra fire,” Malliard said. “I hope.”
In addition to her match-high 23 kills, Nicols also added seven blocks, 16 digs and 11 service points. Turner added seven blocks as well. Kirk also contributed 12 digs and 13 service points. Jaricka Simmerman ran the offense and finished with 47 assists. Proper chipped in with nine blocks and Emily Merritt added 25 digs.
For the Cardinals, Aubrey Hering had 11 kills and six blocks. Kendell Dickson had 11 kills. Carli Gledhill had 15 digs.