By Lisa Byers
Destiny is now in the hands of the Conneaut Lady Eagles.
Conneaut put itself in the driver’s seat for Region 4’s automatic District 10 Class AA playoff berth on Thursday night with an impressive 25-23, 25-22, 25-18 win over state-ranked Corry.
The Eagles improved to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in Region 4 and avenged a five-game loss to the Beavers back on Sept. 10. And they did so in front of an electric crowd at Conneaut Area Senior High. Corry, ranked No. 7 in the state in Class AA in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 10 Poll, fell to 6-1 overall and in the region.
“What an atmosphere,” Conneaut coach Tim Schleicher said. “It’s nice to have that support for volleyball because not a whole lot of other teams get that.
“That was a really well-played match. We knew what we had to do and we came out with a win in three.”
All three games were close throughout, but the Eagles trailed just five times the entire match. Corry took its first lead in Game 1 at 17-16. It didn’t last for long, however, as Allison Snider, one of the big stories of the night, put a kill down the right line to give the Eagles an 18-17 lead.
Corry did make it interesting in the late stages, rallying to pull within one (24-23) on a hitting error by the Eagles. But another key player last night, Angie Vickers, came through with a kill off the block of talented 6-foot-1 middle hitter Brooklyn Goodsel to seal the win.
“Oh my goodness,” Schleicher said, referring to the play of unsung heroes Vickers and Snider. “And that’s a new position for (Snider) these last couple of weeks. She played opposite her sophomore year, so it’s somewhere where she is comfortable. But she took some big swings for us and scored a ton of points on the right side.
“We know when you have a team with outside hitters like ours (Challen Litwiler and Kristen Baker) and you get players to step up like Allison on the right side and Angie in the middle it takes a lot of pressure off and keeps teams guessing.”
Game 2 was much of the same. Conneaut, again, had a decent sized lead only to see it dwindle late. Again, Corry pulled to within one (24-23) on a block by Bret Anderson. But, again, it was Vickers coming through big.
Conneaut went to Litwiler twice on the final rally, but after Corry brought up the second attempt, the Eagles threw a curveball and went to Vickers on the right side and she converted for a 25-22 win and a two-game lead.
“At the end of the day both matches, the one in Corry and this one, came down to just a couple of points on both sides of the net,” Corry coach Kelly Goodsel said. “We made a couple too many errors (last night). We hit the ball in the court and they hit it down the line.
“It’s a great match. We love playing these guys. They’re very good. They stress us. We think we’re pretty good, but we’re a year behind them. They have 10 seniors. We have six juniors. It’s good competition and its good for our players to feel that stress.”
Goodsel did acknowledge the Eagles’ fan base, a good 50 percent of which were members of the Conneaut student body. And they were boisterous.
“The crowd here was outstanding for them,” he said. “Halfway through the first game my head was spinning just from the noise, which good for them. It taught our kids a lot. I’m happy with the way we played.”
There is still plenty of season left to play — five matches within the region, in fact. And anything can happen. But if the playoffs were to start right now, the Eagles, by virtue of the three-game win as opposed to the Beavers’ five-game win earlier this season, would most likely earn a playoff bid on the opposite side of the bracket as the state’s No. 1-ranked Class AA team and defending state champion Fort LeBoeuf.
“That’s huge,” Conneaut senior outside hitter Kristen Baker said. “We’re happy we were able to put this game down. Now we just have to continue and focus on the rest of the season.”
“It’s absolutely huge,” Schleicher said. “You want to get out of the same half of the bracket as Fort LeBoeuf. Obviously we still have a lot to do, but that’s the first step.”
Litwiler and Baker finished with 10 kills each to lead the Eagles. Litwiler also added 17 digs, while Baker added 16 digs and three blocks. Kimmy Litwin finished with 17 digs and Kristen Laird had eight digs. Vickers and Snider finished with seven and five kills, respectively, with two blocks each. Aliyah Hutman dished out 21 assists.
For the Beavers, Goodsel finished with 13 kills. Abby Gluvna had 16 assists and five kills. Maddie Merkle had 19 assists and Rachel Dingfelder 13 digs.