KNOX — Head coach Justin Johnson seems optimistic about the future of the Saegertown girls volleyball team.
After all, its present has been pretty terrific.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the future is all they have left after District 9 champion Clarion ended their 2019 season in the PIAA Class 1A opening round on Tuesday at Keystone High School. The Bobcats won in a sweep, 25-18, 25-19, 25-23.
“It was a great year. We had a fantastic year,” said Johnson. “It was the best year in recent memory for Saegertown volleyball. A couple years ago we didn’t even make the playoffs. We weren’t one of the 18 teams that made the playoffs. Last year we won a couple playoff games. This year we played in the District 10 championship.
“On the rise.”
This year, the Panthers happened to hit their ceiling against Clarion, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 1A according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
Now 18-1 on the season, the Bobcats advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal round where they will take on District 6 runner-up Bischop Carroll, which downed Bishop Canevin in four sets yesterday.
“It’s good to win in three, it’s good to be efficient, because this road is long,” said Clarion head coach Shari Campbell. “And so being efficient with the win means energy later, jumping later, and that’s important.”
Saegertown (12-6), did nearly force Clarion into a fourth set. But that would come later.
First, the Bobcats got the Panthers in a 2-0 hole, winning the opening sets 25-18 and 25-19.
How did Clarion do it? Well, according to Johnson ...
“The big difference between us and (Clarion) is that they pass everything on the money. They run a quicker offense, which is something that we haven’t seen pretty much all year, you know, that quick one-ball in the middle. It’s just not something that we’re used to.
“I thought we did a better job of dealing with it as the match went on. But, that team is just fundamentally sound. Their passing the ball ... I mean, that’s probably the most aggressive we’ve served all year. And they passed the ball on the money the entire time, pretty much.”
The Bobcats’ passing system was spearheaded by Breanna Campbell, who worked up 14 digs while handing out 23 assist; Kaitlyn Constantino, who had 10 digs with her six kills; and libero Kyara Girvan, who added six digs.
The end result of all that passing would, more often than not, end with the swinging hand of sophomore outside hitter Korrin Burns, who put down 20 kills during the match.
Still, Clarion wasn’t steamrolling Saegertown. The Panthers did eventually get up to speed against the Bobcats’ attack, getting a couple blocks on Burns, bringing up some hard-hit shots, forcing the ball back into the Bobcats’ side and forcing them into some mistakes.
The holes just started out too deep for Saegertown. In the first set, for instance, Clarion got out to a 7-2 lead and maintained that edge around 5, 6, 7 points throughout the game.
In the second set, Clarion went up 6-3. Saegertown answered with a four-point run to take a 7-6 lead. But the Bobcats clapped right back for four straight to move back in front 10-7.
Clarion eventually extended its lead to 21-13. Amber Costello had a nice run at the serving line for Saegertown, which scored six consecutive to cut it to 21-19. But the rally ran out of steam and Clarion scored four straight to end the game.
By the third set, however, Saegertown was playing pretty evenly with Clarion. Granted, Clarion wasn’t hitting as sharply as it had in the first two sets.
“We need to work on bringing energy the whole way through,” said coach Campbell. “Sometimes when you’re flashy at the beginning you have to work on staying the course and being able to bring that energy the whole way through.”
The two teams battled back and forth the whole set. Eventually, it looked like Saegertown was going to snatch one away, scoring six straight with Kaylee Mulligan at the serving line to lead 23-21.
“We did not quit,” said Johnson. “That’s been one of the things with our team all year. I’ve seen us lose and bounce back. I’ve been doing this a long time, and sometimes when you go down 2-0 like that, in this kind of pressure situation, you might as well start the bus in that third game.
“But we didn’t do that.”
However, Burns snuffed out the Panthers’ rally with a kill. Then Brenna Campbell went back to the line to serve. She sent over two straight aces, and then her third serve was an overpass that was stuffed down at the net by Burns to end the match.
“There’s nobody I’d rather have serving back there then Brenna,” said coach Campbell. “She’s a three-year starter and she’s proven in some big matches that she’s the one you want controlling the ball from the serving line in a situation like that. We lucked out with the right rotation for that to happen.”
Stat leaders for Saegertown included Brittany Houck with seven kills and Averie Braymer and Mulligan with four each. Ava Jones had 17 assists. Mulligan and Costello each had nine digs.