The very first word spoken by Cochranton boys volleyball coach Brad Custead in his post-match interview will sum up Friday night’s District 10 championship finale better than all the words that follow it.
“Incredible,” he said.
“I mean, you talk about firing on all cylinders. We didn’t miss a beat. Every pass was perfect. We were covered, we were digging. We did exactly what we needed to do.
“I mean, that’s the best volleyball I’ve seen Cochranton play all year, and in all the years I’ve coached. And we’ve had some good teams. But they haven’t come together like that. And this is perfect timing for it.”
Playing for nearly four hours in a sweltering Meadville High School gymnasium yesterday, the Cardinals first muscled their way into the championship round with a 25-16, 22-25, 25-21 win over Saegertown.
Then they carried that momentum over to the first championship match to dominate Maplewood, the last undefeated team left in the tournament, 25-13, 25-16.
Then in the ultimate final, Cochranton and Maplewood squared off for a three-game scorcher. And in the end it was the Cardinals soaring, 25-15, 23-25, 25-19.
After all that, Cochranton senior Josh Oertly had a word of his own.
“Tired,” he said. “It was a long night. But we knew what we needed to get done. We knew we would have to play every play. We knew it was going to go three games. We knew that was going to happen. We just had to fight every point. And we did.”
The Cardinals now move on to the opening round of the state tournament. They will face the third seed out of District 7 — Deer Lakes — on Tuesday at 6 p.m. back at MASH’s House of Thrills.
“Unbelievable,” said Custead. “I just can’t even believe that happened. I expected to come in here and ... who knows ... but never that. I never dreamed we would be moving on like this after falling into the loser’s bracket. It’s such a tough road. Those poor boys have been playing since 6:30 p.m. So from 6:30 to 10:15 they played volleyball pretty straight, and they never let down. They said they had more energy going into the second Maplewood match than the first one.
And it’s not just Custead and Oertly being a little biased about their team’s performance last night.
Afterwards, Maplewood head coach Sheila Bancroft could do little else but give the Cardinals their propers.
“Oh, Cochranton, hands down, they were the best team here today,” she said. “Cochranton did everything right, from the service line to the defense. They just totally outplayed us. There are no excuses.”
The Tigers started the tournament as the second seed. And in second is where they finished it.
“It was an outstanding season,” she said. “That’s what I just got done telling these guys. We’ve come a long way. ... It was just a phenomenal, fun season. And every parent and kid out there ought to be proud.
“But somebody has to lose. Unfortunately, we were on the losing end. But Cochranton deserved everything and they’re going to represent us well.”
Likewise, Saegertown was the third seed from the tournament. And the Panthers were the next-to-last team to get eliminated with their loss in the losers’ bracket final.
“We had a good year,” said Panthers head coach Justin Johnson. “It was fun. I’ve enjoyed being around this group of kids this year as much as I ever have. It’s a great group of guys.”
Cochranton was the only team to rise above. They came in seeded fourth. And they left with a District 10 championship trophy.
“Anything can happen at districts,” said Oertly. “Anything can happen. ... ”