Sheila Bancroft and Marci Malliard were both disappointed in their team’s outcome at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association girls volleyball state championships last season.

But the thing that disappointed them the most wasn’t the loss, but rather the fact they would soon be forced to say goodbye to one of the most successful senior classes ever.

“It was sad to lose the match,” Bancroft said following the Tigers’ loss to Merion Mercy in the Class AA championship match, “but the saddest point was when it was all over the only thing that went through my mind was, ‘I’m not going to get to coach these girls again.’”

Malliard had the same thoughts following the Cardinals’ loss to Reading Central Catholic in the Class A title match.

“(Losing them is) not something I want to think about,” she said at the time.

Maplewood and Cochranton were two of the nine Crawford County girls volleyball teams to be hit hard by the 2008 graduation. In fact, a total of 44 players were lost to graduation. That’s an average of nearly five players per team.

And of those 44 players, 16 were all-District 10 selections at least once during their careers. Nine were selected to the PVCA all-state team at least once as well.

“The players that graduated from that class were powerful,” Bancroft said. “You’re not going to find a class that powerful for a few years down the road.”

“That was an amazing class of kids,” Malliard added. “Not only were they talented, but they had good work ethic.”

That begs the question, what exactly can volleyball fans expect for 2008?

“A lot of new faces,” Bancroft said. “There are a lot of new challenges out there.”

Among the losses for Bancroft and the Tigers was outside hitter Angela Groshner, who like Cochranton’s Leirin Baker, was a three-time All-District 10 and all-state pick. Danielle Brunot and Anna McCurdy, both three-time All-District 10 and two-time all-state nods also graduated.

That leaves Maplewood, which moved to Class A this year and into Region 2 with its former French Creek Valley Conference foes, with just one player with more than one year of varsity experience.

“It’s a different look,” Bancroft said. “This group, though, has been around success. They know what it takes to be good players. They’re working really hard. We just need to make some adjustments, slow things down and really just stick to a lot of the basics until they’re ready to take the next step and move forward.”

One of the adjustments Bancroft has made is giving two-year starting setter Becca Beightol an opportunity to showcase her offensive power. In doing so, the Tigers will move to a 6-2 offense this season with Beightol sharing her setting duties with sophomore Nicole Brunot.

“Becca has worked really hard in the offseason and it has paid off,” Bancroft said. “She is our best hitter. She hits harder than Danielle (Brunot) and Angela (Groshner). The challenge will be, can we get her the ball? If we can get her the ball, she’s going to be a tough player to stop.

“I haven’t seen anyone else hit as good as she is. We just have to get her the ball.”

Cochranton, too, will need to start almost from scratch. Middle hitter Leann Bortner-Yasay and libero Katy Sheehan are back. The Cardinals also return middle hitter Krystal Kline, who did get some playing time a year ago. But from there, it’s bunch of new faces for Cochranton, who hasn’t lost a conference match or title since the district moved to regions in 2004.

They are without four-year starter Shelly Hill, Lauren Dalton, Kristen Woge, Ashley and Sarah Lippert and Molly Mattis.

According to Malliard, though, so far, so good.

“Things are going pretty well,” she said. “They’re doing what they need to do. They have just about as much talent as they did last year, it’s just a matter of getting that experience. They need the experience.”

Like Cochranton, Cambridge Springs also lost seven players to graduation, including two-time all-state middle hitter Aria Johnston and two-time All-District 10 libero Stephanie Baer.

Conneaut Lake lost five, including Meadville Tribune Player of the Year Chantal Haase, Linesville five, Meadville four, Saegertown four, Titusville five and Conneaut Valley three.

“Everyone is extremely young,” Spa coach Rob Schmidt said. “Extremely young.”

“I’m not sure the volleyball will be as good as it has been,” Bancroft said. “But as the season goes on the matches will get better.”

That’s not to say the region won’t be a dog fight night-in and night-out.

“Oh, you’re going to have to come to play every night,” Bancroft said. “Every team is going to be on the same even path the whole way through. There is no powerhouse.”

“For us, there’s the tradition of Maplewood volleyball,” she added. “There is some pressure. Everyone expects us to be successful. We’re just going to do our best to represent that.”



Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370, ext. 277 or by e-mail at lbyers@meadvilletribune.com.

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