By Lisa Byers
All Meadville has heard since early Sunday when it learned three members of its team would not be suiting up for the District 10 Class AA boys volleyball tournament due to disciplinary actions is “not now.”
Would the Bulldogs go into that tournament as the favorites? Not now. Would they achieve their season-long goal of winning the District 10 tournament? Not now. Would they have an opportunity to compete in the PIAA state playoffs? Not now.
The Bulldogs know they still have a long ways to go in reaching those goals. But they showed their naysayers on Tuesday that they are very much still in the running.
Meadville advanced to the District 10 Class AA semifinals with a 25-16, 25-13, 25-21 win over Ft. LeBoeuf last night at Meadville Area Senior High’s House of Thrills. And it did so behind the phenomenal play of two players in particular — freshmen Joe Coffee and Cottrell McDonald, who got the start in place of Tyler Minnis and Robbie Stainbrook.
Minnis, Stainbrook and reserve Trevor Clune are serving a five-day suspension from school and subsequent five-day suspension from extracurricular activities following an incident Saturday night. Meadville head coach Ron Newman would not go into detail about the incident, but did say the trio would not be back at least for the duration of the District 10 tournament and the first round of the state tournament, should the Bulldogs advance.
Newman isn’t worried, especially now.
“I think they really have the focus that they want to prove people wrong,” Newman said of his team. “They want to show their teammates that they can get it done without them, that this is team now and not just a bunch of individuals.
“There is not one selfish person on the floor right now. They are all there for each other.”
Coffee was outstanding from the middle hitter position for the Bulldogs. He finished with seven kills, second to Matt Izbinski who finished with 11 kills.
Cottrell, who had played in just one varsity match prior to last night, had six digs and made precise pass after precise pass to help Tommy Leech, who is now running a 5-1 offense as the Bulldogs’ lone setter.
“They played very well,” Newman said. “Everyone who stepped on the floor played well. Even the bench was into it more than usual. I’m very proud of my guys.”
Sam Wyman, the Bulldogs’ former libero and now outside hitter, finished with six kills, three service aces and five digs. Leech had 28 assists and four aces. Kyle Rose had seven digs and three aces. Tyler Gorman added two aces.
Meadville advances to Thursday’s semifinals to face Maplewood, a three-game winner over Cambridge Springs. That match is set for 6 p.m. back at the House of Thrills.
Meadville wasn’t the only team fired up last night. Maplewood, too, came in with a ton of emotion backed by a small but loud student cheering section. Cambridge Springs took leads in all three games, but the Tigers battled their way back to take the match 25-19, 25-16, 25-21.
“Justin Dahl,” Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft said. “He brought us back in every one of those games on his serve. If he’s on, he is probably the hardest jump server in this region. But he’s not consistent. (Last night) he was and he was at practice (Monday night).
“I joked with him, I said, ‘Now bring that to the match with you (Tuesday) night.’ He saved us in every one of those games.”
Another team that came to the gymnasium a bit fired up was Saegertown. And like the Tigers, the Panthers certainly had to fight for their quarterfinal victory. Saegertown kept a reasonable advantage in the first two sets, but in Game 3, Rocky Grove nearly stole one. Saegertown did hold on for a 25-17, 25-15, 27-25 win and will face Cochranton in the semifinals at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
“(Rocky Grove) played well,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “And Noah (Jones) can hit the ball. He can block. At this point it doesn’t matter how you win. You just win.”
Then there was Conneaut. The Eagles also came out on fire, entering the tournament as the No. 7 seed and the task of facing No. 2 seed Cochranton. Conneaut took control in Game 1, leading 16-11 at one point. However, Cochranton rallied to douse the flames, taking the set 27-25 and extending that effort to a 27-25, 25-20, 25-21 victory.