By Lisa Byers
May 25, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
It has been a whirlwind season for the Saegertown boys volleyball team.
But luckily in boys volleyball what you do throughout the regular season doesn’t much matter. It’s what you do on the big stage in May in front of hundreds of fans at Meadville Area High School that counts.
And, well, the Panthers know how to perform in the limelight.
Saegertown handed Meadville its first dual match loss of the season on Friday with a 25-12, 18-25, 25-20, 26-24 victory in the District 10 Class AA championship match at Meadville’s House of Thrills.
The win capped an incredible tournament run for the Panthers that ended with their fourth title in seven years.
“We weren’t playing together all year,” Saegertown senior setter Ross Ferguson said. “But finally when districts came around we started putting everything together and we lost just one set the whole tournament.
“We were together playing defense which was our weakness the entire year.”
The Panthers entered the District 10 tournament as the No. 3 seed and ranked eighth in the state in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 10 poll. Meadville was the top seed and ranked sixth in the state.
But Saegertown came ready to play against Meadville and showed no signs of fear in facing a team that swept the Panthers twice during the regular season.
Instead it was Meadville that came off looking a bit shell shocked in the opening set.
The Bulldogs opened the match with a kill by Kyle Rose to take the early lead. The Panthers tied it up on a hitting error by the Bulldogs and answered with a 11-0 run to take a commanding 12-1 lead.
The run included three kills and a block by Shane Rigby, two Alex Barclay kills, a solid serving performance by Dustin Pavlik and an emotional bench that celebrated with vigor each and every point.
“I think it was a little bit of freshmen jitters,” said Meadville coach Ron Newman, who started two freshmen and a sophomore in last night’s match. “We just threw that first game away and started with Game 2.”
The Bulldogs (14-1) did respond in the second set which went back and forth early on. Meadville’s biggest lead in the early going was two points (2-0 and 10-8). Saegertown (11-5) tied it up at 10-10 on a block by Greg Bras and took the lead on another block by Bras as the Saegertown fans were on their feet to greet the baseball team which just hours prior had punched its ticket to the D-10 title game.
“I had goosebumps,” Ferguson said. “I really had goosebumps.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers that was their last lead of the second game as Meadville went on to take the set 25-18 to even the match at a game apiece.
Game 3 was tied at 18-18 before Saegertown went on a 4-1 run to take a 22-19 advantage. Meadville pulled to within two (22-20) on a kill by Mark Miller. Rigby put the ball back in the hands of the Panthers with a kill. Pavlik added an ace for a 24-20 lead and Rigby finished it off with another kill.
Then came Game 4. Meadville was within a point of sending the match to a deciding fifth set, leading 24-23. A hitting error knotted the game at 24-24. The Panthers took the lead on a kill by Barclay and clinched the title with another Meadville hitting error.
“We’ve made changes and we’ve done a lot of different things and we’ve tried different combinations and it seems to be working out,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “We’re going to try to keep this thing rolling.”
Saegertown’s season continues on Wednesday in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA state tournament. The Panthers will face WPIAL third seed Our Lady of Sacred Heart at 6:30 p.m. at Meadville Area Senior High.
Meadville also advances to the state tournament. The Bulldogs will face WPIAL champion Ambridge at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at North Hills High School.
“With everything that has gone on this week, I’m pleased,” Newman said, referring to the loss of two starters for the District 10 tournament. “To throw two freshmen into a District 10 final … That’s a lot of pressure on these young kids who have never been in this situation before.
“I’m proud of the way everyone on the floor played. The bench was phenomenal. They were into the match. It’s just back at it at 8 o’clock (Saturday) morning.”
One player for Meadville who did have an exceptional match was Matt Izbinski.
“Matt Izbinski played one of the best matches I’ve ever seen played here,” Johnson said. “With everything that happened … He needs credited.”
Izbinski finished the match with 11 kills, five blocks and 14 digs. Also for Meadville, Rose had six kills, two blocks and 15 digs; Miller had seven kills and three blocks; Sam Wyman had 10 digs; and Cottrell McDonald had 17 digs.
For the Panthers, Shane Rigby had a match-high 17 kills. Barclay and Pavlik added 14 kills each. Ferguson dished out 33 assists and Bras put up five blocks.