By Lisa Byers
Tuesday night’s Region 1 boys volleyball clash between Meadville and Saegertown started off rather quiet with Meadville Area High School’s public address announcer forced to yell the match’s starting lineups due to malfunctioning equipment.
But it certainly didn’t end that way … for Meadville at least.
The Bulldogs, just days removed from winning the Hempfield Tournament, gave their fans plenty to cheer about with an impressive 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 win over the Panthers.
Meadville, ranked No. 5 in the state in Class AA according to the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association rankings, improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Region 1. Ninth-ranked Saegertown fell to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the region.
Last night’s sweep was the second for the ’Dogs against their arch rival and one they felt they needed to have.
“This is the one we wanted,” Meadville coach Ron Newman said. “This gives us a leg up on them for seeding in the District 10 tournament. This was a big one.”
And once again, Meadville’s success revolved around its efforts at the service line and yet another solid all-around performance by the Bulldogs’ breakout player Matt Izbinski.
The Bulldogs finished last night’s game with 10 service aces and a number of others than resulted in free balls or misdirected passes. In other words, Meadville made it immensely difficult for the Panthers to set up any kind of offense.
“Our serving has been phenomenal all year,” Newman said. “As our serving goes, we go. It made it difficult for (Saegertown) to pass the ball. I don’t think there is anyone who can play with us if we keep serving the ball as well as we have been.”
Then there’s Izbinski.
Limited a year ago due to an ankle injury, the senior opposite hitter has come back this year with a vengeance. At the Hempfield Tournament on Saturday, Izbinski finished with 33 kills, seven service aces and 24 digs. Last night, he had nine kills, three service aces, four digs, three stuff blocks and four assists.
“He played a phenomenal match,” Newman said. “He plays well in big matches. He played really well over the weekend and it just continued (last night). He hit .500 for the match. You can’t beat that.”
Izbinski is happy to be injury-free and able to contribute this season.
“I came back halfway through the season last year and just wasn’t 100 percent,” Izbinski said. “This year I’m 100 percent and I just want it so bad.”
One of the only weaknesses for the Bulldogs thus far is finishing. In all three games against the Panthers, Mead-ville let the Cats creep back in.
In Game 1, Meadville led 22-16. Dustin Pavlik had a kill and back-to-back service aces and Shane Rigby recorded a huge block to cut that deficit to just three (23-20) for the Panthers.
It was nearly the same story in Game 2. This time Pavlik put up a block with the Panthers trailing 23-15 to put Ross Ferguson at the service line. A Greg Bras block, attack error and another block by Rigby pulled the Cats to within four (23-19).
Saegertown trailed 22-15 in the third set. And, again, Pavlik rallied the Panthers. It was his block that pulled Saegertown to within just three (22-19).
Meadville held on in all three cases.
“We have the same problem every time we play them,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “We don’t pass the ball. They have five great servers and we don’t handle that very well right now.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are handling pretty much everything well.
“Our serving and defense have just been phenomenal this year,” Izbinski said. “We have over 200 aces so far, which is amazing and our blocking is coming along. Our net play is very important to us and we have some big guys.”
Meadville is aware, though, that there is still plenty of volleyball left to be played and that it needs to continue to get better as the season progresses. But a win over Saegertown in region play can now be checked off its list.
“We’re very excited,” Izbinski said. “We just don’t like each other. Off the court, we’re friends. On the court, we’re rivals.”
In addition to Izbinski’s big game, Tyler Minnis also had a stellar night for the Bulldogs with 10 kills and eight digs. Rob Stainbrook had three kills and Mark Miller four. Sam Wyman had 17 digs. Tom Leech added 10 digs and 23 assists.
For the Panthers, Rigby finished with 10 kills and two stuff blocks. Pavlik had six kills and three blocks. Alex Barclay had five kills.