ST. MARYS — The top-seeded Elk County Catholic volleyball team got on a roll in the first set and never left off the gas as it defeated No. 8 Smethport in a sweep, 25-11, 25-14, 25-21, Thursday evening in the District 9 Class A quarterfinals.
“Frankly, I think this was the best volleyball we’ve played all season long,” said Lady Crusader interim coach Rick Fox. “It’s a good time for us to be playing some good ball.
“We knew they had a pretty big middle attack. The last couple practices we were working on our middle blockers defending that middle attack. Our focus was on defending them. Our outside girls really did a bang-up job hitting. We try to average over 10 kills a game, this one we were at 40 kills over three games, so we were averaging over 13 kills per game.”
Due to that stout middle attack for the Lady Hubbers, it created many chances for ouside hitter Cassidy Cunningham. Cunningham put down 19 kills on the night, and it started from the very first point of the match.
“Our goal was to isolate their middle attack, and I think we did a pretty decent job,” said Fox. “But at the same time, they did a really good job defending our middle attack, which opened some things up for us on the outside.”
The two teams traded points up to 3-2 to start, but ECC won six of the next seven points to take a 9-3 lead.
After a Reilly Herzing kill at 9-4, the Lady Crusaders’ Kara Detsch went on a service run of her own with six straight points from the line, including one ace to get the ECC lead to 15-4.
Reilly Herzing also had a couple aces late in the first set, while Josie Smith also added one as the Lady Crusaders cruised to a 25-11 win.
Despite the dominance in the first set for Elk County, it didn’t immediately carry over into the second set. Smethport started the set by getting the first three points and eventually jumped out to a 9-5 lead.
That’s where the Lady Crusaders started the comeback in the set as they tied it at 11 before ultimately taking the lead on a Jordan Fox kill that they would not give up.
The Lady Hubbers only got three points from there the rest of the set, with two of them coming on serves that went long as ECC grabbed a 25-14 win in the second set. Cunningham served three straight aces to end the set.
“We struggled early in the season when we made mistakes,” said Fox. “We let those mistakes affect us. Our emphasis the last couple weeks has been when someone makes a mistake, five other people pick it up. And I think we did a pretty effective job. We may have had a couple spots when we weren’t playing great individually, but as a team, everybody else helped out.
“We were trying to keep our unforced errors down and we were pretty successful at that for the most part. There were a few runs where we made three or four mental mistakes in a row that gave up three or four points in a row. We can’t allow that from here on out.”
Like the second set, Smethport grabbed an early lead at 3-1 and also had a 10-8 lead later in the game, but the Lady Crusaders took control from there.
Herzing went to the service line down 10-8, but rattled off four straight service points to give her team a 12-10 lead.
The Lady Hubbers got themselves into a tie at 15-all later in the game, but Cunningham threw down another kill before serving three more service points to put ECC back up, 19-15.
Smethport got it to as close as 23-21 in the final game, but Taylor Newton’s kill and one more service oint from Herzing gave the Lady Crusaders a 25-21 win to end the match.
“In the end, it’s a great win,” said Fox. “I hope it gets us ready for Saturday.”
In Saturday’s “Final Four” of the District 9 Class A playoffs at St. Marys High School, Elk County Catholic will play No. 5 Coudersport at 11:30 a.m. in the semifinals, while the other semifinal will feature No. 2 Clarion and No. 3 A-C Valley at 10 a.m.
The consolation match will be at 1 p.m., and the championship at 2:30 p.m. The top three places advance to the PIAA Class A Tournament.