UC celebrate

Members of the Union City girls volleyball team celebrate a point during Thursday night’s high-intensity Region 3 match against Saegertown. The Lady Bears won the match in three tight games, 25-23, 29-27, 25-23. 

SAEGERTOWN — Not in 20 years had the Union City girls volleyball team beaten Cochranton. But on Tuesday night, the Lady Bears did just that, raising some questions. Fluke? Or are the Bears truly a team to be reckoned with in the race to the Region 3 championship?

The Bears answered those questions loud and clear on Thursday at the Panthers Den.

Union City improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 3 with a thrilling 25-23, 29-27, 25-23 sweep over Saegertown. The Bears now sit alone atop the region standings — a half-game ahead of Cambridge Springs, who Union City does not face until the final match of the season.

Saegertown is now 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the region.

“More than what I anticipated,” said the Bears’ first-year head coach Rachel Moore. “We played two great teams in our region right off the top and they weren’t easy games. We had to work hard. The girls deserve this. They have worked hard all through preseason, worked their butts off and it shows.”

It wasn’t looking so good for the Bears from the onset as the Panthers built a 7-0 lead in the first set. Saegertown was firing on all cylinders with only one of those seven points coming off UC errors. Averie Braymer had two kills and a block, Kaylee Mulligan had a pair of kills and 5-foot-5 setter Ava Jones had a one-hand block.

Union City eventually got the sideout on a Saegertown attack error and started slowly chipping away. Twelve serves later, the Bears found themselves trailing by just two (11-9). Saegertown continued to keep the feisty Bears at bay, but they eventually caught up.

After back-to-back kills by Eliza Reynolds, an attack error by the Panthers knotted the game at 22-22. Union City took the lead on another kill error and reached game point on third straight attack miscue. Abby Tingley sealed it when she pushed the ball over to the open court to give the Bears a 25-23 win.

“We knew coming in they were going to be tough,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said of the Bears. “We played them in team camp. And they were pretty solid. They have a great outside hitter and they hustle. They didn’t let much hit the floor and they let us make mistakes. We made a lot of errors at crucial times.”

The Bears used that momentum to turn the tables on the Panthers in the second set as UC built a 7-1 advantage. This time, it was Saegertown rallying back. A Brittany Houck kill sandwiched between a pair of kills by Mollie Przybrowski and a double-contact call on the Bears gave Saegertown a 16-14 lead. 

The set continued in a back-and-forth pattern until Saegertown finally reached game point at 24-22 on a Carmen Kantz kill. Those pesky Bears, however, refused to go down. Przybrowski made a ridiculous save while flying into the stands that Reynolds smashed down to the ground, ending an incredible rally between the two squads and tying the game at 27-27.

An attack error made it 28-27. Reynolds then placed her serve right in the middle of the floor where no one was standing for the ace, the 29-27 win and a two-set advantage.

“At practice every day, if a ball lands without a body beside it, we’re sprinting,” Union City outside hitter Natalie Franke said. “So it’s kind of programmed into us now not to let a ball drop and keep hustling through stuff.”

With a 13-6 lead in the third set, it looked like Saegertown was finally going to break through and extend the match to a fourth set. The Bears, again, chipped away slowly and then rallied late off the arm of Franke for a 25-23 win and the match.

“This feels great,” Franke said. “I play club volleyball with (Corry coach) Kelly Goodsel and we do really well. Sometimes it’s kind of a letdown coming here. These girls have so much potential and they are finally seeing it.”

So … fluke?

“It’s not a fluke anymore,” Franke said. “Union City is getting there.”

Franke led the Bears with 13 kills. 

For the Panthers, Houck finished with nine kills. Braymer had six kills and Mulligan added five. Jones had 24 assists. Amber Costello led the way with 14 digs.

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