COCHRANTON — Two promising but still-gelling volleyball programs met on the hardwood at the Cochranton High Birdcage on
Throughout the night they traded identities. One would be the growing squad of Week 1. Meanwhile, the other would look like the dangerous team they would become by fall’s conclusion. And then everything would flip.
By the end of the evening, it would be the homestanding Cardinals (2-0) with the most consistent performance, as they topped the visiting Eagles in four, 20-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-22.
“We’re still messing with the lineup,” said Cochranton head coach Marci Malliard. “But a couple people stepped up tonight and earned some spots. I’ve struggled more than ever to put together a lineup this year. I have a real different mix of kids with strong suits and not-so-strong suits. And it’s been hard to find place on the floor for people who I think should be out there.”
So, what exactly was Malliard looking for during last night’s match?
“I needed to have somebody step up and be able to hit on the outside,” she said. “That’s what we were looking for. I had Alissa (Dickson) and Kendall (Miller) and Kayleigh (Danielson) and Elise (Miller), I had those four on my outsides for the last four years. So, I didn’t have to look at that at all. And this year it was a whole new mix of kids. And we have to find people to step up and swing on the outside.”
Cochranton’s hitters made sure that Malliard’s ultimate decision wasn’t going to be an easy one, as six different players finished the match with four kills or more.
Maria Amory and Megan Heim led the way with seven each. Cathryn Miller followed with six kills. Lille Hiles had five. And Janice Comstock and Devyn Sokol put down four apiece.
“I don’t keep them in one place all the time,” said Malliard. “I feel like they should be able to hit everywhere. And I think that they’re pretty good at that. They can move along the net and hit anywhere I ask them to hit. Everyone did a nice job tonight.”
Eventually. In the first set of the night there were more points scored off serving and hitting errors than successful plays for both teams.
Yet, it was CASH (0-1) who added a few dashes of tough play into the mix, the kind the Eagles displayed while winning the Slippery Rock Invitational this past Saturday. That had them claiming the night’s first game 25-20.
The Eagles’ top hitters began to assert themselves, like Cassidy Snider, who would finish the match with 14 kills; or Taylor Kersnick, who had seven kills and three aces; or Kaylee Mattera, who had six kills.
“Any time you come to Cochranton to play this program you know that you’re in for a challenge,” said CASH head coach Christine Krankota. “They’ve got the mental edge being at home. And they’re tough.
“But we came out and I thought, despite some of the errors, that we were able to overcome them and pulled out the win.
“I don’t think we were able to carry that energy on to the second game.”
Cochranton assumed immediate control over the second set, rolling out to an 8-1 lead behind a serving streak from Vincena Reese. Miller later had a nice run behind the line as Cochranton built out its lead to 19-7.
Conneaut struggled to transfer those serves to their hitters up front.
“It’s early on in the season,” said Krankota. “We know that we have some meshing to do. We know we’re going to get there. But we had some weaknesses exposed tonight, which is great. We can get back to the drawing board tomorrow, we start to concentrate on those weaknesses and get better.”
Conneaut transitioned better in the third and fourth sets, getting their hitters involved a little more. That made for some tighter games.
For instance, it was a five-point set at 15-10 in the third. But Cochranton won 10 of the next 14 to slam the door.
And in the fourth, the two teams were neck-and-neck all the way to 21-21 before the Cardinals closed out four of the next five points to end the match.
Even with CASH’s attack running smoother, the Eagles weren’t able to take the momentum due to some resilient play by the Cardinals’ defense.
Reese would end up leading that effort with a dozen digs. She was followed by Miller with eight, Lexi Moore with seven, and Heim with five.
Other stat leaders for Cochranton included Miller with 10 assists and Moore with nine.
“I thought we served pretty decent,” said Malliard. “We had some serving errors, but not so many. We had some nice defensive plays. Vinny had a very nice defensive game. I was pleased.”
For Conneaut, Emily Bortnick had 20 assists.
“We just weren’t able to finish the job,” said Krankota. “It’s early. There are a lot of transitions going on with the program right now. We’ve messed with lineups a lot. They’re getting used to new coaches. There are going to be some peaks and valleys. That’s what we’ve told them. But we’ve had some pretty impressive stuff happen in the first week of the season. It’s there. And we’re trying to remind them of that.”