COCHRANTON — A region matchup between two top boys volleyball teams in the state did not disappoint on Thursday.
In the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA poll, Cochranton is ranked 8th while Saegertown is right behind them at 9. It looked as though the Panthers would leapfrog Cochranton in the next poll after taking the first two sets, but the Cardinals had other plans.
The Cardinals won three consecutive sets to defend The Bird Cage (25-27, 22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-5).
Saegertown was in control of the game for most of the first two sets. After holding a seven-point lead in the first set, Cochranton battled back to tie it at 25’s, but the Panthers were able to hold them off to take the first set.
The second set was much like the first. Panthers’ Jaden Wilkins and Max Fuller threw down hard kills early and another failed Cochranton comeback attempt gave Saegertown a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Cardinals did not fail their next comeback attempt.
“It shows a lot of character from our guys,” Cochranton head coach Robert Cierniakoski said. “We were down 2-0 and to pull ourselves out of that and win, that’s good.”
The Cardinals came out hot in the third set and kept the Panthers several points behind down the stretch to ease to their first set win.
Cochranton started the fourth set just as hot on a 9-3 run, but allowed the Panthers back into the game. The region foes traded points late in the set and the score stood at 22-all. Senior Tyler George scored two big kills and had a huge block to score the final three points and give the Cardinals a much needed win.
“When I’m down 2-0 I just try to play as a team. In a sport like this you need the whole team, you can’t just play by yourself,” George said. “I just wanted to come back and get a good win for the team.”
George followed up the match-tying block with a massive kill to start the final set.
“Having Tyler out there it makes it a lot easier. Really, he’s the only guy that’s had consistent varsity experience,” Cierniakoski said. “To have a player that can be a go-to guy, do all the little things, play defense and get big kills, that’s huge and everybody falls in line.”
The team definitely fell in line.
Cochranton opened the final set on a 12-2 run and won with a convincing 15-5 score. The Panthers struggled to establish anything in the final set and lost a heartbreaker after taking a 2-0 set lead.
“We have to learn how to put teams away. We did the same thing we did with McDowell. We got up two and lost three in a row,” Saegertown head coach Justin Johnson said. “We just have to learn how to win right now. Talent wise we have it, but right now we need to get over that hump.”
George finished with a team high 16 kills. He is one of two seniors and hopes to help his younger teammates develop.
“I try and be a leader,” George said. “I know that I may not be here next year, but I want to influence the kids coming up. I want to help this program and make it strong.”
Also for Cochranton, Jaiben Walker added 12 kills and Kyle Hoffman had 11 kills. Greyson Jackson served up 53 assists and Andrew Custead recorded eight digs.
Leading both teams with 18 kills was Saegertown’s Wilkins, who added 12 digs. Fuller ended with 15 kills and Logan Ingram recorded 40 assists in the match.
The loss dropped Saegertown to 4-5 on the season and 3-4 in the region.
“What we really have to think about is how to get better over these next few weeks. Everyone basically gets to start over once the tournament rolls around. It’s no secret that other than seeding this part of the season really doesn’t mean too much because you have to go into that tournament and play and win,” Johnson said. “That’s always been the good thing about the District 10 boys volleyball tournament is as soon as that week starts you have life.”
Cochranton is now 9-2 overall and 8-1 in region play with its lone loss coming against Meadville.
“I actually think we have a lot of momentum to build up still. Against a good team like this tonight we get so much better throughout the match,” Cierniakoski said. “Without having a season last year and having a bunch of young guys, playing five sets against a great team with make us that much better heading into districts.”
George said the team is using this week as a mini-playoff run.
“This week we played Cambridge on Tuesday, then today’s game, then we are going down to North Allegheny and they’re a pretty big school and win states every year,” George said. “We treated this week as a little playoff run in itself to get ready for games coming up.”