By Lisa Byers
It took quite a few years to put a District 10 girls volleyball banner up on the gymnasium wall at what used to be Linesville High School.
But when Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Valley and Linesville merged to form Conneaut Area Senior High School, that banner as well as all the other banners won by the girls volleyball team, wrestling, football, basketball, etc. had to come down.
It was time for new memories to be made as CASH. What a lasting memory the Lady Eagles made Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Eagles captured CASH’s first District 10 title in any sport yesterday with a 25-19, 25-23, 25-16 win over defending state champion Fort LeBoeuf in the Class AA championship match at Meadville Area Senior High’s House of Thrills.
“It’s just so crazy,” Conneaut libero Kim Litwin said. “To have everything you worked … We came out and played the best that we could play. We’ve been working so hard for it to show and to finally achieve one of our main goals. I just can’t believe it.”
Conneaut snapped Fort LeBoeuf’s 37-match winning streak. The Bison are ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AA by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association after being ranked No. 1 the first six weeks.
“Hard work pays off,” Conneaut senior outside hitter Challen Litwiler said. “Whatever you put into it is what you are going to get out of it. We practiced two hours and 40 minutes every day. I think it has really paid off. And our coaches’ support for us is unreal.
“I’ve never had a coach support me as Dale (Flickinger) and (Tim) Schleicher do.”
Fans who have paid attention to Fort LeBoeuf and Conneaut throughout the season, expected a quality and highly competitive match at the House of Thrills. And both sides obliged. But the Lady Eagles played at a whole other level yesterday; each and every one of them.
Game 1 was a barnburner. Conneaut trailed 14-12. The Eagles rallied and eventually tied the score at 15-15. Conneaut took the lead on an ace by Litwiler and never trailed again.
In Game 2, Fort LeBoeuf, again, had the early advantage, leading 12-9, following a 3-0 run. A ball handling error and block by Angie Vickers and Aliya Hutman tied the game at 12-12. Fort LeBoeuf and Conneaut were tied eight more times.
Tied 22-22, Julie Vickers got the call off the bench to serve. And as she has several times this season, Vickers delivered an ace to put Conneaut up 23-22. Angie Vickers followed with a kill to give the Eagles a 24-22 advantage.
Fort LeBoeuf scored on a service error to give it life, but was whistled for an illegal back row attack on the next serve awarding Conneaut the point for a 25-23 win and a two-game lead.
“It wasn’t perfect all night,” Schleicher said. “They made runs at us. But we stayed focused. Just tremendous … Tremendous defense.”
Speaking of defense … It was the Eagles’ grittiness and determination that allowed them to complete the sweep. Two plays in particular in the third set took the cake.
The first play was made by Kristen Baker. Baker extended herself and made a ridiculous one-arm save that led to a 12-5 Conneaut lead. On the very next rally, Hutman put herself on the highlight reel with a diving save just off the net.
Those plays, along with the exceptional defense and passing of Litwin and Kristen Laird, and clutch plays by Allison Snider and Lindsey Shidemantle at the net set the Eagles apart.
“I am tremendously proud,” Schleicher said. “They really earned it here (yesterday).”
“I knew we could do it,” Baker said. “We just worked so hard. We all knew what we had to do and we came out and played with heart.”
“Double-A champs …” Schleicher reiterated.
Conneaut (17-1) advances to the state tournament which begins Tuesday. The Eagles face WPIAL third seed Knoch at 8 p.m. at Cochranton High School. Fort LeBoeuf will face Bradford at 7:30 p.m. at DuBois High School.
Litwiler led the Eagles with 15 kills, 16 digs and two blocks. Baker added 10 kills and 11 digs. Litwin had 19 digs and Laird seven. Hutman dished out 32 assists to go along with seven digs. Snider tallied six kills and four blocks. Angie Vickers had two blocks. Shidemantle had three blocks.