In a swift three sets on Thursday night at the House of Thrills, the Meadville boys volleyball team proved that if it plays at its best, it’ll be a team to reckon with in Region 1.
The Bulldogs had one of their most crisp passing nights and provided a fearsome block leading up to a 25-20, 25-20, 25-21 victory over Saegertown during both teams’ Region 1 opener.
Meadville’s vivacious student section was loud all night, and it had plenty of things to cheer about. The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-0 Region 1) didn’t trail by more than two points the entire match, and held commanding leads during the final two sets.
Meadville, the sixth-ranked Class AA team in the state according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, made a point of holding onto its leads, something it struggled with during its 3-1 loss at Saegertown on March 27.
“We couldn’t put teams away,” Meadville head coach Ron Newman said. “And tonight we put them away. We let teams back in with three-or four-point leads and ended up losing. Tonight we didn’t let them back in.”
A diverse ’Dogs offense that included five players with four or more kills kept Saegertown’s defense off-balance. And when the No. 10 Panthers (2-2, 0-1) tried to get offensive, Meadville juniors Rob Stainbrook and Matt Izbinski were there with denials. Stainbrook led with six blocks and Izbinski added four.
“The big difference is our middle showed up,” Izbinski said. “We finally got the middles in the game and we finally started blocking. And our defense was insane. Everybody was insane today.”
The insanity in the crowd and the buildup between the region rivals made for an interesting match. And after Saegertown won on its home court last month, Meadville was ready as ever to provide a little payback.
“I think they were a little more relaxed,” Stainbrook said. “They thought they were going to come in and beat us like they did at their house. But we were preparing all week long for it and we just came in all serious and not joking around. We showed them up. It was a great night.”
The first set provided the tipping point in the match. Neither squad held an advantage of more than three points when the ’Dogs turned a 22-20 lead into a 25-20 win.
“They handled us in the first game but we were playing pretty well,” Saegertown head coach Justin Johnson said. “We just couldn’t make a play at the end of the game when we needed to get over the hump. And we never recovered from that.”
The Bulldogs began to pour it on the Panthers from there on out. A 4-1 lead in the second set led to Johnson calling a timeout. The advantage billowed to scores of 8-2, 13-5 and 21-11 before a short Saegertown rally carried into another 25-20 final in Meadville’s favor.
The Bulldogs’ Chris Allegretti just missed the sideline on a kill attempt to finish the second set. Seconds later, Allegretti drilled a kill that propelled the ’Dogs to a 2-0 set advantage.
“We just didn’t start very well the other two sets,” Johnson said, “and if you don’t start well against them, they’re going to make you pay. They handled the ball well and right now that’s our big problem.”
The Cats stayed close at 12-11 in the third set before a 7-1 surge pushed the ’Dogs’ lead to 19-12. Saegertown once again made things interesting with a late comeback, but Meadville scored the final two points after a timeout at 23-21 for the sweep.
Izbinski totaled his fourth block to win it, and that led to the exuberant Meadville student section storming the court to celebrate with the team.
“A sweep is the best thing ever,” Izbinski said. “It’s just exciting. Everybody was up. All week we were saying, ‘We gotta beat them. We gotta beat them. It’s a region game. We gotta get up.’”
Izbinski had a team-high 10 kills. Tyler Minnis added nine, Stainbrook had seven and both Allegretti and Jeremy Szitas followed with four.
Tom Leech (20) and Tyler Minnis (17) were tops in set assists for Meadville, and Alex Minnis had 19 digs.
Saegertown’s kills weren’t as spread out. Shane Rigby had a match-best 14 kills and Dustin Pavlik registered 12. Ross Ferguson dished out 28 assists.
Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.