COCHRANTON — Conneaut and Meadville punched their tickets to the District 10 Class 3A girls volleyball championship tilt with head-turning performances during their semifinal matchups on Thursday night.
The question was: Which of those teams was going to sustain that momentum against its biggest rival with the District 10 Class 3A title and the district’s lone state playoff berth on the line?
Early in the match, it didn’t look like the Eagles were going to be the answer.
Late in the opening set, however, the Eagles found the gas pedal and didn’t let up en route to a 27-25, 25-16, 25-22 win over the Bulldogs to capture the District 10 crown, Saturday at Cochranton High School.
“On this stage, with this rivalry, anything can happen,” Conneaut coach Christine Krankota said. “The bounce of one ball here and one ball there can change the dynamic of a game or a match. We got down by six, I think it was, and we easily could have rolled over. We could have said, ‘I quit. I’m done. We’re going to hit the reset button for Game 2.’ But they dug their heels in and they fought back. And they were relentless.
“We wanted them to be relentless in their pursuit of their goal tonight and they were.”
The Eagles had to be relentless the way Meadville opened the match.
“That’s probably the single best volleyball we’ve played in that opening set,” Meadville coach Tim Schleicher said. “That just made me so calm. I enjoyed just watching them play like that. If we could have kept that up in the second …”
Meadville cruised to a 6-1 lead in that first set and only one of those points six points was courtesy of a CASH mistake. The Bulldogs earned them all. It started off with back-to-back blocks by Mia Soerensen and Hannah Parks and was followed by a service ace by Jillian Decker for a 3-0 Meadville lead. The Bulldogs sent a dig long to lose the serve, but got it right back on a service error by the Eagles.
Meadville followed with a kill by Soerensen and a service ace from Lucy Smith for the 6-1 advantage.
The Bulldogs never let up. But as the match progressed, the Eagles caught up and they eventually took a 21-20 lead. Meadville got the lead right back and after a kill by Soerensen and a block by Jordan Graham and found itself at game point up 24-22.
Cassidy Snider slammed home a kill for the Eagles and Emily Bortnick served up back-to-back aces to give CASH a 25-24 lead. Again, Meadville responded, tying it up on a kill by Soerensen. A double contact call and a kill error capped the victory for the Eagles at 27-25.
“We have how many girls who have never been in this position before?” Krankota asked. “This is a brand new scenario for so many girls and they came out … Lindsey (Hasbrouck) and I were talking on the bench and we could feel their nerves. They were through the roof. That was to be expected. Once they settled and they found their groove they were a completely different team. But we had to get them there first.”
Conneaut gave the Bulldogs a taste of what it felt in Game 1 in the second set, bolting out to a 6-1 lead over the Bulldogs. Like CASH, Meadville did fight out of the hole and closed to within two (12-10). But that was as close as the Bulldogs could get as Conneaut held on for the two-set lead.
Game 3 was another battle. It was a 5-1 lead by the Bulldogs to start the third. Conneaut quickly tied it up this time at 6-6. There were six more ties in the game. Rylee Jones made it 18-18 on a service ace. She then served up five straight to give the Eagles a 23-18 lead. Kaylee Mattera had three kills and Taylor Kersnick had a kill and a block during the run.
Meadville did rally for two points late. But it wasn’t enough.
“We were right in there,” Schleicher said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win in sets 1 and 3. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. There’s another team over there too.
“As a program we need to grow from it and we need to keep telling ourselves that. Because today it hurts.”
Meadville finishes its year at 10-7. Conneaut improves to 14-3 and advances to the first round of the state tournament. The Eagles will face WPIAL No. 3 seed Franklin Regional on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
Statistically for the Eagles, Snider had a whale of a game, finishing with 12 kills and 15 digs. Mattera was also in double digits in kills with 10. Rylee Jones tallied 14 digs. Bortnick dished out 29 assists.
For the Bulldogs, Soerensen led the way with 11 kills. Lucy Smith had 14 digs followed by Parks with 12 digs and Decker with 11 digs. Decker had 24 assists.