By Lisa Byers
From the outside, it looks as though the Conneaut merger has posed no problems to the Lady Eagles girls volleyball team.
After all, in their two year existence, the Eagles have shared two Region 4 titles and have appeared in two District 10 Class AA semifinals.
But it hasn’t been all that easy.
Feelings have been hurt and tears have been shed as the Eagles have worked all season long to find the right combination of players to put on the court night in and night out.
“It’s been a lot of work … a lot of tears,” Conneaut head coach Tim Schleicher said. “But it has all been met with positive attitude.
“It’s not me; it’s not the coaching staff. It’s those girls understanding what we want as a program and buying into it and working whether they’re having a good day or a bad day.”
And now the Lady Eagles have a state tournament berth to show for all that hard work and sacrifice.
Conneaut claimed a spot in the District 10 Class AA championship match and an automatic bid to the state tournament on Thursday night with a 25-8, 25-13, 25-16 win over Wilmington at Meadville Area Senior High’s House of Thrills.
“It’s really exciting,” said Conneaut senior setter Aliya Hutman. “I’ve never been to states before, so it’s really exciting for me personally. But I know the entire team is excited.”
The Eagles used a combination of 14 players to punch their ticket to Saturday’s District 10 title match where they will face defending Class AA state champion Fort LeBoeuf at 3 p.m. back at MASH. And each and every one of those players contributed in some fashion. Wilmington, the Region 3 runner-up, had no answer.
Challen Litwiler led the Eagles from the get-go. The senior outside hitter started the match with a kill followed by back-to-back solo blocks to put Conneaut up 3-0. The Greyhounds did rally back, pulling to within one (4-3). That was as close as Wilmington would get the rest of the match.
“The one thing we talked to this team about before (last night’s) match was how individually they all contribute and how big of a part of the team they are,” Schleicher said. “It’s hard to play with this many kids. But they are all pretty settled into their roles I think and they just support each other.
“They were really focused and excited (last night) and I think it showed on the court.”
Leading the Eagles (16-1) statistically was Litwiler with 21 kills, nine digs and three blocks. Kristen Baker notched her second double-double of the postseason with 10 kills and 12 digs to go along with two blocks. Kimmy Litwin added 16 digs and Kristen Laird six digs.
Hutman finished with 27 assists, seven digs and two blocks. Also contributing with solid performances were Allison Snider (three kills) and Angie Vickers (two kills and two blocks).
Fort LeBoeuf earned a chance to defend its District 10 title with a 25-17, 25-21, 25-11 win over Corry, which shared the Region 4 title with Conneaut this season.
Larissa Cass and Jolene Young led the Bison (16-0), who are in the midst of a 36-match winning streak, with eight kills each. Young also had eight digs. Abby Rose had 22 assists and Courtney Oberlander recorded 12 digs.
“I think it’s kind of the long-awaited showdown,” Fort LeBoeuf coach LeAnn Johnson said of the District 10 Class AA matchup. “I think everyone pretty much has known that this is what it should come to if everyone did what they were supposed to.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it should be a lot of fun.”