By Jim Hunter
Special to The Meadville Tribune
Cochranton middle hitter Kendell Dickson knows how to open and end a volleyball match: With vicious spikes.
Powered by Dickson’s overhand drill shots and strong back-row play, Cochranton opened the PIAA Class A state volleyball championships with an impressive 25-9, 25-8, 25-20 win over Neshannock on Tuesday night at Meadville High School.
The District 10 champion Cardinals (17-0), ranked No. 6 in Class A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, will play defending state champion Clarion, ranked No. 2, on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“We are happy to be moving on,” said Cochranton coach Marci Malliard.
Malliard was 66 percent satisfied with the Cardinals’ performance against Neshannock: Pleased with the effort in the first two games, but not thrilled with the showing in the third game.
“I was really happy with the ball movement in the opening two matches, but there is no reason to ease up like we did in the third match,” she said.
After Neshannock scored three consecutive points to pull within 24-20 in the third game, Dickson comforted her mentor after a timeout with her specialty ...
A ferocious match-ending spike.
“Kendell is our go-to player and she came up big,” said Malliard.
Dickson had a lot of help.
Her younger sister, Kassidy, served six consecutive points in all three games; senior Madison Bernarding and junior Morghan Egli were strong at net; junior back-row player Sam Kinter set up her mates with near-perfect bumps.
It was Kendell Dickson, however, who got the Cardinals rolling.
Opening game one with two overpowering spikes, Dickson fueled the Cardinals to an early 7-1 lead — prompting Neshannock coach Andrew Frank to call timeout.
To no avail.
Energized by a spike from Bernarding and a block from Kassidy Dickson, the Cardinals increased their lead to 15-6.
Frank called another timeout. Once again, Frank’s pep talk didn’t work.
Exclusively putting the ball in Kendell Dickson’s hands, Cochranton closed out Game 1 with a 9-1 run for a 25-9 win. Dickson had four kills, Egli had two key blocks and Bernarding had a thrilling save.
Copying the opening match, Kendell Dickson opened the second game with a thunderous spike to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Kassidy Dickson followed with six straight service points to give the Cardinals a commanding 9-1 lead.
Game 2 over.
Sparked by Kinter’s save and Bernarding’s ensuing hit, Cochranton jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the final set.
The Cardinals then eased off the throttle, and Malliard wasn’t happy.
Giving Cochranton a taste of its own medicine with dominating net play, Neshannock battled back and closed to within 24-20.
Kendell Dickson then had the last say.
Malliard didn’t forget her fans in the post-game interview, thanking the entire community for their ongoing support of the Lady Cardinals.