HARBORCREEK TOWNSHIP — In early August, Cochranton coach Marci Malliard was hesitant to make any predictions as to how the Lady Cardinals’ volleyball team would do this fall.

“I didn’t know,” Malliard said. “There were just so many uncertainties.”

But as the season wore on, Malliard and the Lady Cardinals started to see the potential for a very good season, particularly after the Cards captured their sixth straight Region 2 championship and fifth District 10 Class A title in six years. Unfortunately, it didn’t end as the Red, White and Blue had hoped.

Cochranton saw its outstanding season come to an end Tuesday with a roller coaster 23-25, 25-14, 19-25, 25-14, 15-11 loss to Clarion during the opening round of the PIAA Class A state playoffs at Penn State Behrend’s Junker Center.

The Cards finish the season at 18-1. Clarion, meanwhile, improved to 14-4 and advances to the quarterfinal round of pool play to begin Friday at Central York High School in York.

“We did a lot more things than I expected,” Malliard said. “I was extremely unsure of what we could do this season. They definitely exceeded my expectations. It didn’t end the way they or I would have liked it to have, but they should be proud. It was a great season.”

Unlike with many opponents team’s face in the first round of the state tournament, Cochranton and Clarion were very familiar with each other going into yesterday’s game, having played in the Maplewood Tournament together in mid-October.

The Bobcats went a combined 11-4 at the tournament with two of those wins coming against Cochranton in the semifinals. The Cards were hoping for a turn in fortune against the District 9 runner-up last night. It didn’t happen. But overall, Malliard was pleased with her team’s performance.

“I certainly didn’t want to come (to Behrend) and lose in three,” Malliard said. “And I’m sure Clarion was real confident they were going to come in here kick our rear-ends, but that didn’t happen. It could have gone either way, they ended up getting the big kills in the end.

“We needed to pass the ball better so we could swing at the ball at the end, but we didn’t do it. They came out swinging and finished the game swinging just like they wanted to.”

It was for all intents and purposes a difficult match to figure out on both sides. To the fans in attendance, it looked as though each team was just having trouble playing on one side of the court with neither able to pick up a win on the right side of the official.

It was as if the teams went through a change as they crossed the line to that side of the court. So when the Bobcats won the coin toss for the fifth and deciding set, it was pretty clear to fans which side Clarion, once ranked No. 1 in the state in Class A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, would chose. Head coach Shari Campbell, however, threw everyone a curve ball when she not only chose the right side, but elected to receive.

To her, the decision was rather simple and had nothing to do with what side the two teams played on.

“I didn’t think it was the side of the court,” Campbell said. “I just thought it was the match-up we had against Cochranton when we received. I was going for the match-up.”

It worked out pretty well for Campbell and Co., who were able to work their outside-inside game to near perfection. That is something the Cards, the District 10 champions and sixth-ranked team, struggled with all night long.

In fact, of the 41 kills the Cards recorded against the Bobcats last night, just nine of those came from an outside hitter. Middle hitters Sarah Jacobs and Krystal Kline tallied all but one of the rest. That kill came from setter Ashleigh Bridge.

“That is what our game needed to be,” Malliard said referring to the need to get the outsides more involved. “It just wasn’t happening (last night) for any of them outside. When that does happen, though, and your middles are producing the way they were, it’s hard to stay away from them.”

In the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I don’t know how you can move from one side of the court to the other side of the court and play such different ball,” Malliard said. “I don’t know … It was a good season, though.”

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