By Lisa Byers
Height isn’t typically an attribute of the Cochranton girls volleyball team.
The Lady Cardinals have learned to fill that void with stellar play on defense in the past. And they have been pretty successful as a result.
This season, Cochranton has a little bit of height up front. Add that reputable defense in the back court and the Lady Cardinals are proving to be a pretty tough act to beat. Just ask Saegertown.
Four players combined for a total of 63 digs as Cochranton swept the Panthers 25-20, 25-17, 25-23 on Tuesday to improve to 8-1 overall and in Region 2.
The Cardinals remain just a game back of Maplewood for the top spot in the region and a quarterfinal round bye in the upcoming District 10 Class A tournament. Saegertown fell to 6-3 overall and in Region 2 play and into a tie with Union City for third place in the region.
Saegertown faces Maplewood on Thursday. Union City plays Cochranton.
“Cochranton played great defense tonight,” Saegertown coach Brian Shoop said. “I don’t know how many digs they finished with, but they had a lot. They keep the ball off the floor. We don’t. And that is the difference. That’s the game.”
Madison Bernarding led the Cardinals with 20 digs. Several of those saves came in the first two sets, which Cochranton turned into defensive clinics. And those lessons weren’t being dealt solely from the back row. Aubrey Hering and Morghan Egli put up a wall at the net as well.
“We have to count on our block a lot,” Cochranton coach Marci Malliard said. “So we have to get our defense outside our block. That’s where the ball is being directed to. And we did. (Bernarding) played a nice game back there.
“It’s frustrating (for the opponent).”
Saegertown never led in either of the first two sets. Cochranton jumped out to a 4-1 lead in Game 1 and a 10-1 lead in Game 2. The Panthers took their first lead in the third set, which they opened with a 6-1 run.
The Cardinals worked methodically to cut into that deficit and finally took the lead at 17-16 on a block by Bernarding and Hering. Saegertown did eventually retake the lead, but it couldn’t hang on.
“We really practiced hard on Monday,” Hering said. “We worked on staying low and anticipating because we know (Saegertown) can do so many different things with the ball.”
And Hering had every bit of confidence that the Cardinals would figure out a way to come back in that third set.
“We did it against them the first time,” Hering said. “We were down two sets to one. I knew we could do it. I have all the faith in the world in those girls. No matter who Marci puts out there, I know they are going to do a great job.”
For the Panthers, there are still several questions as the regular season winds down.
“We’re Jekyll and Hyde,” Shoop said. “I just can’t figure it out.”
Offensively for the Cardinals, Hering led the way with 11 kills. She added 10 digs and four blocks on defense. Kendell Dickson finished with seven kills and 15 digs. Bernarding added nine kills. Carli Gledhill tallied 18 digs. Egli had three blocks and 14 assists.
For the Panthers, Courtney Lilly had nine kills. Arianna Hanley added seven kills. Rachel DiBartolomeo dished out 19 assists. McKenna Morian and Sarah Allen had 10 digs each. Mackensie Garris finished with nine service points, including three aces.