SLIPPERY ROCK — A magical run through the PIAA Class A Tournament from the Clarion volleyball came to an end on Tuesday evening.
After finishing in third place in the District 9 Tournament, the Lady Bobcats knocked off District 7 champion Bishop Canevin in five sets in the first round before defeating District 6 champion Northern Cambria in four sets in the quarterfinals.
But Clarion couldn’t make it 3-for-3 in taking out champions as they fell to District 10 champion Maplewood in straight sets, 25-17, 25-21, 25-20, in the semifinals at Slippery Rock High School.
“I don’t know if we necessarily made a lot of mistakes, but they put a lot of pressure on us,” said Clarion head coach Shari Campbell. “We had forced errors. I think we played some great defense, I thought we passed fairly well, I thought we served tough. They’re just a little bit bigger than us.
“They’re a great program. They have a little more maturity on the court than we do.”
After a one-year absence from the state tournament last year, this year’s version of the Lady Cats team continued their tradition into playing this far into the season.
Since 2006, Clarion has made the state quarterfinals in every season except the last two years. The Lady Cats also fell in the state semis in 2008 and 2014, and was the state runner-up in 2010 and 2011. They won the Class A state championship in 2012 over Williamson.
In Tuesday’s match, the Lady Cats had leads in the middle of all three sets, but it was always the Lady Tigers that went on a roll towards the end that pushed them to the finish line.
“From watching them, they’re very good at ball placement,” said Campbell. “They think about where they’re putting it. That puts you back on your heels wondering, ‘Which way do I go?’”
Clarion jumped out to an early 5-1 lead to get things started, primarily from the serving of senior Maya Thornton.
However, Maplewood had the set tied up at 6 before the two teams went back and forth through the next 20 points.
Clarion had a 16-14 lead in the opening set, but the Lady Tigers rallied to win 11 of the next 12 points to take the set.
Clarion’s Lexi Lauer had a kill with her team down 18-16 for the lone point in the run. Maplewood’s Maggie Hunter closed out the last six points from the service line.
Much like the night’s opening game, it was the Lady Cats that got out in front in the second set at 4-0 and 5-1. Thornton started the run from the service line.
Clarion got their lead to 8-4 before Maplewood tied the game at 8 apiece from the serving of Angie King.
Clarion did recover from that and held their final lead of the set at 12-11 before the Lady Tigers took over from there with eight straight points to take a commanding 19-12 advantage.
Lauer did cut the deficit down to 21-18 at the service line, but couldn’t put together any momentum from there as Maplewood took the 25-21 win to go up two sets to none.
Clarion never held a lead by more than one point in the third and final set, but still fought all the way to a 14-14 tie in the middle of the set.
Maplewood’s Maggie Thomas put down a kill at 14-14, and the Lady Tigers continued the run to 18-14.
After trading the next six points to make it 21-17, Maplewood picked up a pair of points off a Clarion carry and a kill.
Sophie Varndell ended the game with a kill for the 25-20 win to complete the sweep.
Thornton led Clarion on the night with eight service points and seven kills. Lauer posted nine service points and six kills. Sydney Kiser added seven kills.
Clarion finished the season at 16-4. The Lady Cats will graduate Thornton, Kiser, Alexis Constantino, and Maya Miller this year.
“We’re a young team,” said Campbell. “I think we do better after we’ve proven ourselves against someone. We haven’t seen Maplewood at all this season and typically we do. We were just kind of going with our scouting we had done. I think we were a little bit hesitant, but I honestly can’t be more proud.
“We had seniors that knew how to play defense and served lights out who decided to really lead this team and teach these young kids what it takes to make a run like this. I couldn’t be more proud of that.”
Maplewood will now play District 11 champion Marian Catholic for the state championship on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Richland High School. Marian Catholic defeated Bishop Carroll on Tuesday in four sets.