By Lisa Byers
GUYS MILLS —
Just moments after Nick Dickson was carried off the court during Cochranton’s District 10 Class A championship basketball game against Kennedy Catholic, Brad Custead’s phone lit up.
“I started getting phone calls and texts,” said Custead, the Cardinals’ boys volleyball coach. “He’s my cousin, so my family was calling me. I was like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ Then my assistant was listening on the radio and called and said, ‘They are carrying Nick off the court for some reason.’”
It was Custead’s worst nightmare. The starting setter from last year’s District 10 championship team had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and days later underwent surgery putting an end to his volleyball season before it even began.
Custead, who was set to return a good portion of that team that wowed District 10 a year ago, was suddenly without one of his team’s main cogs and was forced to start making some tough decisions. Fortunately for Custead, he isn’t the only coach in District 10 this season making those decisions.
District 10, in general, is young and inexperienced this season. Meadville and Saegertown both return quite a bit of experience. But they, too, are missing some key players due to graduation.
Maplewood has just one returning starter: setter Justin Dahl. And Cochranton? With Dickson on the sidelines, the Cardinals sent just six players to the court initially for pregame warmups.
So with the Region 1 season set to start for everyone but Meadville and McDowell — who opened on Tuesday — on Thursday, there is no sure bet as to who will come away a champion in the end.
But it should be another very competitive season, especially if the region season starts like Tuesday ended for Cochranton and Maplewood in their rematch of last year’s District 10 championship match.
Fans were treated to quite a show as Cochranton held off a number of Maplewood rallies to win the match 25-23, 25-18, 25-23.
“It was a good game,” Custead said. “It was a really good defensive game, which is what I expected. Maplewood and us are pretty comparable this season. We’re making changes. They’re making changes.”
All three games were up for grabs until right around the very end.
Games 1 and 3 were tied at 23-23. In Game 2, Maplewood led 14-10 before Logan Herzberger stepped to the service line for the Cardinals. He left the line with Cochranton up 20-14.
“We’re gaining,” Maple-wood coach Sheila Bancroft said. “We improve every game. (Last night) I thought we did some really good things. We made some really good plays, but we didn’t finish any of those plays.”
That comes with the youth.
“They didn’t give up,” Bancroft said. “They got down 2-0 and could have given up, but they came back and played with a little fire in that third game. They are a bit frustrated right now, because they couldn’t complete that third game.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish a game. We aren’t there yet.”
It’s go time now, however.
Fight for No. 1 begins
The preseason is over for all nine District 10 boys volleyball teams.
On Thursday, the mad dash for the Region 1 championship and the No. 1 seed in what could be a revamped District 10 tournament begins. Starting it all off is a match that on April 11 went five sets. Maplewood held on to win a 20-25, 25-12, 25-15, 19-25, 15-9 battle with PENNCREST School District rival Cambridge Springs.
The two square off on Thursday at the Wood Shed.
“Are we excited that they count now?” Bancroft said of the start of the region season. “Yes.
“We’ve played a lot of volleyball so far. We’ve gone through a lot of changes. I’ve gone through eight different lineups I think so far. I think we’re where we need to be. We just need to sharpen things up a little bit.”
Also on Thursday, Farrell travels to Saegertown, Cochranton travels to Rocky Grove, and Conneaut plays host to Fort LeBoeuf.
Earlier this year, the PIAA decided to change things up in regards to its state volleyball championship format for both boys and girls.
The PIAA opted to forgo the quarterfinal round of pool play and move to single elimination. District 10 followed suit in girls volleyball. Now District 10 tournament chairman George Schroeder is trying to do the same for the boys.
Schroeder said on Tuesday that paperwork has been filed with District 10 proposing a change to the boys volleyball tournament. That proposal includes not only a switch to single elimination, but the number of teams that will qualify. Eight of the nine teams would qualify under the proposed format.
Also, all matches will be best of five.
The response from District 10 coaches and players is mixed.
Cochranton was a benefactor of the double elimination format a year ago in its run to the District 10 title.
“It’s going to force us to come out, get excited and play our best from the very beginning,” Cochranton outside hitter Logan Herzberger said. “There was room for error. We aren’t going to be able to do what we did last year.”
In the new format, Maplewood would have been crowned the District 10 champion last year. Bancroft went through the same change during the girls season and sees advantages.
“Did I like it for the girls? No,” Bancroft said. “But I think it’s a change. It’s like when the game of volleyball went to rally scoring. Did I like it? No. But now do I like it? It’s O.K.”
The stat sheet
Last night’s match between Cochranton and Maplewood did produce a few outstanding individual performances. Chad Eisenhooth finished with 12 kills, seven blocks and seven digs for the Cardinals (2-1). Herzberger had five kills, six blocks and 19 digs. Josh Vanderhoof had 11 kills. Nate Wigton had 57 assists.
For Maplewood (1-2), Ethan Moody led the way with eight kills. Miller Peters, Ronnie Klingensmith and Jeremy Hope had five kills each. Dahl had 22 assists and Zak Dennis 21 digs.