By Drew Karpen
Thursday’s boys volleyball match between Meadville and Saegertown at Saegertown High School was a non-region match ... on paper.
The intensity inside the gymnasium and emotions on both sides of the court proved that a lot more was at stake in this matchup of bitter rivals.
But in the end only one team could come out victorious, and the Bulldogs sure are glad it was them.
“Coming out against our rival (Saegertown), it is always huge,” Meadville senior Tyler Minnis said. “They’re always a big game to come too and to sweep them in three is unbelievable. Considering they were even ranked a few spots ahead of us in the state rankings. We took that personal. We had a chip on our shoulder.”
Minnis was one of a handful of Bulldogs that brought his A game during their 25-22, 25-19, 25-23 win.
The key attribute to the Bulldogs win was their strength at the service line.
“We knew if we served them tough we could beat them on the serve,” Meadville head coach Ron Newman said. “They struggle with their passing as we do. We passed a little bit better as the match went on.”
The Bulldogs’ serving was in full effect in the first set. Down 5-4, senior Matt Izbinski rattled off three straight service aces to give Meadville a 7-5 lead.
“The fundamental thing in volleyball is serving and passing and they served us off the court and we didn’t pass the ball,” Saegertown Head Coach Justin Johnson said. “ That was the difference in the game. They got us out of sync on offense because we never passed at a high level.”
No matter how out of sync the Panthers were, they still found a way to stay neck-and-neck with the Bulldogs.
With a two-point advantage late in the first set, senior Rob Stainbrook met Panthers’ Jeff Mattocks at the net for the block, giving the Bulldogs their first three-point lead of the match at 17-14.
Meadville jumped out to a 24-19 lead but had trouble closing out the set. After the Panthers saved four straight set points, Minnis knew it was time to step it up. The senior closed the door on the Panthers with a monster kill to secure the opening set for the Bulldogs.
“I just go up and do what I was taught to do,” Minnis said. “Just go read the block and go get the point. I guess you just can’t be nervous to do what you are taught to do.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers it was more of the same in the second set. With both teams trading points, Meadville recorded the first run of the set. Once again the run was ignited from the service line. The Bulldogs recorded back-to-back aces for a 7-4 lead. This time it was Minnis that caused the Panthers damage from the line.
“Serving is going to carry us all year and as you saw we have a good serving team,” Newman said. “It forced Saegertown into a lot of mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make. Ross (Ferguson) had a long way for a lot of his passes and it cost him a lot of setting errors.”
Towards the end of the set, the Panthers started to unravel once again. After a double hit by Mattocks, followed by Dustin Pavlik hitting it into the net and another double hit by Saegertown, the Panthers saw their one point advantage turn into a two point deficit.
With the score tied at 17-17, the Bulldogs bigs came through with back-to-back blocks by Stainbrook and Kyle Rose.
Meadville scored the next two points on a Greg Bras hit out of bounds and a kill by Tom Leech to build a comfortable 21-17 lead.
With another set point on the horizon, the Bulldogs showcased their serving again with an ace by Tyler Gorman.
Needing one more set for the victory, Meadville was sitting pretty. The Bulldogs came out strong in the third set, jumping out to a 4-0 lead.
But the Panthers showed they had one more fight left in them. Saegertown crawled back into the set and eventually took a 23-22 lead after a kill by Shane Rigby. Rigby’s kill forced Newman to call a timeout to regroup his team, a move that paid huge dividends for the Bulldogs.
After returning to the court, Leech recorded back-to-back kills to give the Bulldogs a 24-23 lead and set point. With no room for error, Minnis came through with his biggest point of the night, getting a service ace to end the game after Saegertown had an illegal double hit on the return.
“It’s a good way to go into region play,” Minnis said. “I think the state rankings will be switched around and hopefully we can bring this momentum into region play.”
Coach Newman was more than pleased with his team’s effort.
“It was a total team effort,” Newman said. “Nobody was in double digits. We spread the wealth around which is what you got to do. We got talent all the way around.”
Minnis led the team with eight kills and added five digs and 10 assists to his line. Izbinski and Stainbrook each had six kills with Stainbrook adding four blocks. Leech led the team with 17 assists and Wyman led the Bulldogs with nine digs.