DuBOIS — It was back in early September. It was Cochranton’s second match of the 2019 season. The Cardinals were taking on Conneaut Area. And while Cochranton won that match in four sets, head coach Marci Malliard admitted that she still didn’t quite know what kind of team she had on her hands.
The program had graduated numerous key players in the preceding couple of years. And heading into 2019, the Cardinals were putting plenty of new faces on the court and had several questions surrounding them.
“I’m struggling more than ever to put together a lineup this year,” Malliard said at the time.
It’s now two full months later. And the 2019 Cardinals volleyball team showed Malliard, and anyone else that was paying attention, just what they’re made of. They became a team that could not only win the District 10 title, but could also hold their heads high after a battle with the reigning state champs.
District 6 champion Northern Cambria ended the Cardinals’ season in the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals, Saturday at DuBois Central Catholic. Final scores were 25-17, 25-18, 19-25, 25-14.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Malliard said about her team after the season had come to a close. “From the beginning, from where we were, to where we are at the end, they’ve worked very hard to get us here. We had to put a lot of different people out there. Everybody accepted their responsibilities and their roles. And I think they were able to put that all together.
“(Northern Cambria) was a state championship team. And they didn’t really lose anybody from last year. And at any given time we had a couple freshmen and sophomores out there against them. So, I was proud of them. They played.”
Cochranton ends the season with a record of 15-5.
Northern Cambria improves 21-1 overall and moves on to Tuesday’s semifinal round where it will face District 9 champion Clarion, which swept Bishop Carroll yesterday. Clarion is the No. 1-ranked team in the state according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. North Cambria is ranked second.
“That’s a well-oiled machine over there,” Malliard said about Northern Cambria. “Mike (Hogan, the Colts’ head coach) has coached for years. He has them all playing well.”
One area that the Colts played really well yesterday was at the service line, sending across eight aces to go along with several other balls that the Cardinals struggled to turn into an attack.
“We spend a lot of time serving,” said Hogan, who is an alumnus of Saegertown High School. “We’re not a really big team. So we have to be able to get you off balance a little bit. And I think our serving game is very good. And from a number of players. I think Camryn (Dumm) is our best float server, and Maggie (Hogan). But Autumn Donatelli and Brooke Lieb also have hard line-drive serves.
“But you know what was crazy, is Jenna Lutch, who has a little bit of a change-up serve, gave them more trouble than our hard line-drives.
“She kept looking at me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, serve it short again.’ When you’re in a match like this, you go with what’s working. And that gave them trouble. They couldn’t seem to get their offense rolling.”
The Colts were also able to utilize a fairly full stable of hitters at the net, finishing the match with six girls recording five or more kills.
Junior Maggie Hogan led the team with 15 kills. Lutch followed with seven. Dumm and Donatelli had six each. Lieb and Emma Kollar collected five apiece.
Using those tough serves and their variety of hitters, the Colts were able to keep an arm’s length between themselves and the Cardinals throughout the first two sets.
It was tied 3-3 in set one, before a five-point run gave Northern Cambria a cushion that they would maintain the rest of the game. The second set was similar. This time Cochranton had a lead of 7-5. But the Colts went on a six-point run. And try as the Cardinals’ might, they couldn’t fully chip away at that deficit, and Northern Cambria went ahead 2-0.
The third set was different. In the third, Cochranton started giving Northern Cambria a taste of its own medicine. The Cardinals crossed the Colts up with some tough serves. Lexi Moore had an early ace. Maria Amory had one during her stint at the back line. Carly Richter put down an non-returnable during her five-point run with the service. And Taytum Jackson also served up an ace.
Those early serving successes staked Cochranton to a 16-9 lead over the Colts.
Northern Cambria responded with a five-point run to trim the Cardinals’ lead to 16-14. The game was very much on.
But Cochranton won a key volley around this point. As the match had progressed, the Cardinals started getting their hands in front of the Colts’ hitters more and more. And during one crucial point, Devyn Sokol and Cathryn Miller knocked two kill attempts back at the the Colts’ main hitter, Hogan.
Amory eventually finished off the rally with a tip, boosting Cochranton’s momentum, and allowing the Cardinals to carry out the set 25-19.
“The third game I was pleased,” said Malliard. “I thought we could have been blocking more than we were in those first couple games. In the third game we finally started to get some hands on the block.”
Sokol won Cochranton’s final three points of the set with some hard swings. The freshman would finish with a team-high 11 kills.
“I think their freshman is going to be an outstanding player,” said coach Hogan. “We had to pay some attention to her.”
Megan Heim followed with seven kills and Amory had six. Miller had 25 assists to go along with nine digs. Moore added eight digs and Richter had six.
In the fourth set, however, Cochranton lost the thread a bit. Five of Northern Cambria’s first six points came off Cardinal hitting errors. And then Lutch went back to serve, and feathered a few ‘change-ups’ over the net that Cochranton couldn’t handle.
By the time Cochranton awoke, it was 10-2 Colts. The Cardinals would never recover.
“We got on that high in the third game,” said Malliard. “It’s hard to maintain it sometimes, to get it back going again.”
Getting it back going again will be just what Cochranton will look to do next season. And the Cardinals should have a much better idea of where they are headed this time around.
“This was a great experience for them,” said Malliard, “to get them to see how much work its going to take for them to move beyond this.”