By Pete Chiodo
PETE CHIODO/Meadville Tribune
Meadville is still playing like a team on fire. Saegertown is putting together a stingy defense to go along with its big hitters. And those two forces of nature will collide today at 7 p.m. at Meadville’s House of Thrills in the District 10 Class AA boys volleyball championship match.
Meadville advanced via a dominant 25-12, 25-12, 25-19 semifinal victory over a surprisingly lethargic Maplewood squad Thursday night at MASH. Afterwards, Saegertown made it to the championship by topping Cochranton in three exciting back-and-forth sets, 25-20, 27-25, 25-23.
“This is what it’s all about — District 10 volleyball — nothing can beat it,” said Saegertown senior Dustin Pavlik.
Bulldogs bully Tigers
“I didn’t have to say a word to them before the match,” said Meadville head coach Ron Newman. “They were so focused.”
Meadville, it seems, is still sporting a pretty big chip on its shoulder due to the current suspension of two of its starters, Rob Stainbrook and Tyler Minnis. And that emotional intensity was in full view last night.
“We just wanted to come out strong and put these guys away and show everyone that we can beat them without Tyler and Robbie,” said Bulldogs senior Mark Miller.
It started, as it often does with the Meadville squad, at the service line. The ’Dogs served the ball 26 times in the opening set. Five of them fell for aces. Only one of those serves missed the mark.
Matt Izbinski had the longest stay behind the line, serving up six straight points, which turned a 9-7 Bulldogs lead into a 15-7 advantage.
Meadville went on to win the set 25-12.
“Total team effort,” said Newman. “I can’t say anything more. They’re focused and they’re ready.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t keep up that quality of service the entire match. But they wouldn’t need to. Maplewood, after a stellar match against Cambridge Springs in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, was nowhere to be found in game two.
The Tigers committed 13 errors in the second game. At one point, Meadville went on an 11-point scoring run. One of those points was tip by Joe Coffee. Another was combined block by Mark Miller and Tom Leech. The other nine points were scored on attack errors by Maplewood.
“We just never got started,” said Maplewood head coach Sheila Bancroft. “I don’t have any excuses. Meadville came to play. The bottom line is we didn’t. We played well here Tuesday night. They probably played their best match of the year. And they come in here (on Thursday) and they didn’t play. We couldn’t receive, we couldn’t serve, we couldn’t hit.”
The run took a 9-7 Meadville lead and stretched it to 20-7. Maplewood wouldn’t recover, falling 25-12 in the set.
Meadville took its foot off the pedal a little in the third game, and that was a close one up until the midway point. Then Kyle Rose had a nice stretch of serves, garnering five straight points as the ’Dogs went from a 15-11 lead to a 21-11 lead.
Maplewood, led by a strong serving effort from Ryan Humes, put up a bit of a fight to keep Meadville from ending the night in three. But the ’Dogs held on for the 25-19 victory.
“We just didn’t want (Maplewood) to get back in the match once we got up,” said Miller. “The first two games we did that. The third game started out a little rough, but we put it away. We just tried to stay up the whole time, play focused.”
Cats win a close one
Cochranton is often heralded as one of the best defensive volleyball teams in District 10. For Saegertown, though, defense has been a bit of an issue all year long.
Thursday night, however, the Panthers were thinking “D” as they swept the Cardinals in three games.
“We played good defense and we did a lot of things that we don’t normally do,” said Justin Johnson, Saegertown’s head coach. “We’re more of an offensive team and we struggle on defense. But we won on defense (Thursday), for sure.”
The Panthers’ big guys put up a block that Cochranton at times struggled to penetrate. And the back row consistently brought up digs that would have scored during the regular season.
“Saegertown played excellent volleyball,” said Cochranton head coach Brad Custead. “Their defense was right there (Thursday). They didn’t miss much. Even when we’d go up and get some good swings, they were digging them up. They were playing some impressive defense.”
Of course, Saegertown’s highly-touted hitters also came up big. Dustin Pavlik, for example, had a dominant performance at the net, delivering 17 kills in those three games. Shane Rigby was second on the team with nine kills.
“Dustin played well,” said Johnson. “That’s the best he’s played all year. He stepped it up. That’s what these guys have to do right now. I’ve got six seniors on the team. It’s step-up time for them right now or their careers are over.”
So, with Saegertown playing tough on offense and defense, it’s a testament to Cochranton’s grit that the match stayed as close as it did for three games.
The first game featured five lead changes. Saegertown finally took over with a 6-1 scoring run, turning an 11-10 deficit into a 16-12 lead.
The Panthers had game point at 24-17. But Cochranton denied them the set three straight times before yielding a serve error, giving Saegertown a 25-20 win.
The second game included nine lead changes. Saegertown had game point at 24-23, but a net violation tied it up again. Logan Herzberger pounded down a kill to give Cochranton game point at 25-24. But the Panthers responded with three straight points — spikes by Rigby and Alex Barclay and a well-placed tip by Rigby for the game-winner.
The lead changed hands four times in the third game. Saegertown now had match point at 24-21. But once again, Cochranton fought back, taking two straight points.
Cochranton was working to tie it up. A block by the Cardinals had Saegertown juggling the ball low near the net. Rigby tipped over what should have been a free ball, but it fell to the floor. Match over.
“We lost a couple big ones,” said Custead. “Those big game points, you screw up or something happens, it takes a lot of momentum from you. But we rallied back. We rallied every game. We didn’t dig a hole like we’ve done a lot this season. We battled in the middle and played right with them. But about three-quarters into the game they’d pull away a bit.
“All-in-all it was great volleyball.”