By Lisa Byers
In the moments leading up to Thursday night’s girls volleyball match between Maplewood and Cochranton, it would have been extremely difficult to get a feel for its magnitude from a competitive standpoint.
Fans were intermingled throughout the stands; many adorned in pink or gray breast cancer awareness T-shirts.
During the national anthem, the teams stood together in a line, alternating one Maplewood player, one Cochranton player, and so on and so forth.
The theme of the night, after all, was “No One Fights Alone.”
But just a few minutes into the match, it was clear, Cochranton was playing for a two-game lead in the Region 2 standings with just one match remaining in the opening half of the season.
The Cardinals, fresh off a thrilling five-set win over fellow state-ranked Cambridge Springs, jumped out to a 13-1 lead in the first set on their way to a 25-10, 25-13, 25-23 win over Maplewood at the Bird Cage.
“It felt really good out there (last night),” Cochranton junior Kassidy Dickson said. “It felt like if you made a mistake someone had your back. It was a good night.”
Indeed it was for the Lady Cardinals.
Cochranton, ranked No. 6 in the state in Class A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, improved to 6-0 overall and in region play and now has a two-game lead over Maplewood (4-2, 4-2 Region 2), Cambridge Springs (6-2, 4-2) and Saegertown (4-2, 4-2) for first place in the region.
“It’s nice to be sitting here,” Cochranton coach Marci Malliard said. “But we also have a bull’s eye on our back. They just need to keep playing and know that they always have to be willing to work and get better.”
For two games last night, the Cardinals didn’t look like they needed a whole lot of work, especially in the first game.
Cochranton had the opening serve and within the blink of an eye held a 6-0 advantage. Maplewood scored its first point on a kill by Madi Nicols, but that was followed by another run. This time it was a 7-0 run that had the Cardinals up 13-1 and Maplewood head coach Sheila Bancroft sitting back in her seat dumbfounded.
“At some point it was embarrassing,” Bancroft said. “That’s bad to say, but … We went to Clarion over the weekend and played some really good teams and played some really good ball. But you put them in this type of atmosphere and it was like deer in the headlights.
“They were scared to death and it showed. They were very tentative. Cochranton was comfortable in their game and played very well.”
Cochranton’s lead grew to 15 points (17-2) before Maplewood was able to make any significant run. The damage was far too much to overcome, though. So on to Game 2 they went. And Malliard, who has been coaching against Bancroft for a number of years, knew the match was far from over.
Cochranton did use the momentum to take a 6-2 lead in the second game, but Maplewood responded with a 5-1 run to tie the score at 7-7. But the inexperienced Tigers couldn’t maintain the momentum.
The Cardinals, again, mounted a huge run, including back-to-back service aces by Morghan Egli to take control, 14-7.
By the third set, Maplewood had shaken off the nerves.
“Very frustrating,” Bancroft said. “All I can say is our inexperience, youth showed. We had a lack of focus. When they really believed they could play with them was in Game 3 and by that time it was too late.”
Kendell Dickson led Cochranton with 14 kills and seven blocks. Tristan Knauff added 10 digs and Sam Kinter 12. Egli finished with 22 assists.
For Maplewood, Nicols had five kills and nine digs. Lauren Proper added three kills. Jessa Covine had 10 digs.
The big winner statistically last night, though, was the Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute. Not only was the match a key region battle it was also the 6th annual Dig for a Cure game, originally started by Bancroft and Malliard.
This year’s event was Kendell Dickson’s senior project. Dickson was unsure at the end of the match just how much money was raised total, but said going into the match $2,000 had already been raised.
“It’s not all about the game of volleyball,” Bancroft said. “There are a lot of things going on outside that affect a lot of people and it’s nice to see that we can bring two teams together to support them.”