HYDE — The highly anticipated showdown between state volleyball powers Clarion and Northern Cambria in the PIAA Class A semifinals lived up the the hype Tuesday night at Clearfield Area High School.
And, it was defending state champion Northern Cambria who made fewer mistakes in a hard-fought 31-29, 21-25, 25-18, 27-25 victory to secure its second straight trip to the state finals. It also was the Lady Colts second win in as many years against the Lady Cats, having beaten Clarion in four sets in last year’s state quarterfinals.
Clarion and Northern Cambria entered the matchup ranked first and second, respectively, in the state in Class A in the most recent Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association weekly poll.
But, the Lady Cats (18-2) proved to be their own worst enemy at times while seeking to reach their first state final since winning it all in 2012. Clarion committed 20 service errors, compared to just nine for Northern Cambria.
Several of those missed serves came at key moments, including on three sets points in the opening game after the Lady Cats had dug themselves out of an early 14-5 hole. Clarion also had had a missed serve on a set point.
Northern Cambria, powered by junior Maggie Hogan (21 kills) and senior Jenna Lutch (8 kills, 4 blocks), capitalized on those late micues in both sets to win both games around the teams splitting the middle two sets.
“Missed serves definitely hurt us, and we had a lot of unforced errors and scored a lot of points for them,” said Clarion coach Shari Campbell. “You just can’t do that at this point. That’s definitely being a lot in the moment. And, we’re young. I know we have some great seniors, but we’re young too.
“I also didn’t think we passed well and hit like we can. I haven’t looked at the stats yet, but I know we made a lot of hitting errors. You can’t make errors at this point.
“Defensively, we were there. I think it was the transition to our offense and a couple timid plays at the net.”
The D-6 champion Lady Colts (22-1) raced out to a quick 8-3 lead behind two points each from Camryn Dumm and Autumn Donatelli. A three-point spurt from Rayna Buza pushed that lead to 14-5 before the Lady Cats stormed back into the set.
Jordan Best got things rolling for the D-9 champs, dropping in three straight points before Brenna Campbell rattled off five straight to make it 16-15. Lady Cat Aryana Girvan had a kill and two blocks in that spurt.
Lutch slammed home a kill for a sideout to end Campbell’s run before the teams traded a series of sideouts. Brooke Lieb then put together a three-point spurt featuring a Hogan kill to give Northern Cambria a 23-17 lead.
Clarion countered with a sideout and a six-point run by Girvan to take its first lead at 24-23. However, a missed serve evened things. Girvan led Clarion with 15 service points to go along with seven kills and three blocks.
The Lady Colts fought off another set point thanks to a missed Clarion serve before the Lady Cats survived two sets points by Nothern Cambria. One of those were erased on a missed served.
An ace by Korrin Burns then gave Clarion a 29-28 lead but another missed serve doomed the Lady Cats. Clarion had six missed serves in the opening game. Burns, who had eight points, powered the Clarion net attack with 19 kills and five blocks.
Lutch then scored two straight as Northern Cambria seized the early momentum with a thrilling 31-29 first-set victory.
“We had our chances (in 1st set) but we played timid,” said Campbell. “You can’t play timid. You got to go and take your opportunities. You can’t play it safe, because if you give them the ball, that’s when you’re on your heels and playing a lot of defense and not getting great swings.”
Clarion bounced back in set No. 2, using a late surge to even the match at one game a piece.
The teams largely traded sideouts and single points for most of the set, with Clarion getting back-to-back aces from Girvan and Burns. Northern Cambria used a three-point spurt from Hogan to go up 16-13, but a four straight at the line by Girvan put the Lady Cats up 18-16. Senior Kaitlyn Constantino had two kills in that spurt on her way to collecting 14 in her final high school match.
Clarion never relinquished the lead from there, with Constantino slamming home a kill on set point for the 25-21 win.
The third set went much the same, with the teams trading sideouts most of the way. The teams again found themselves tied 13-13, but this time it was the Lady Colts who put together a late run to win the set.
Three straight points by Buza put Northern Cambria up 18-14 before three points by Dumm made it 22-15. The Lady Colts eventually won the set, 25-18, on a kill by Hogan.
Leading 2-1, Northern Cambria jumped out to an early 5-2 lead in the fourth set on ance by Lutch and two points from Lieb. Clarion battled back, using a sideout and three points by Best to take its first lead of the set at 12-9. Burns earned two of those points with blocks.
Clarion then used single points by Burns and Girvan to go up five at 18-13. But, a missed serve gave Northern a sideout before Buza rattled off three straight points to pull her team within one at 19-18.
Clarion managed to maintain that one-point lead into the closing moments of the set but again suffered missed serves with leads of 23-22 and 24-23. Northern Cambria then got to match point at 25-24, but a kill by Constantino for a sideout kept Clarion alive.
It was on a short stay though, as Northern Cambria captured the final two points, getting one final kill by Hogan on match-point to send the Lady Colts back to the state finals.
Northern Cambria will battle District 11 champ Nativity, Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School at 10:30 a.m. for the Class A championship. Nativity bested District 5 champ Berlin in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-13) in the other state semifinal Tuesday night.
Tuesday was the final match in a Clarion uniform for Lady Cat seniors Constantino, Maddie Schill, Kyara Girvan and Grace Matson. The elder Girvan, who missed Saturday’s quarterfinal win against Bishop Carroll, returned to the court and played some in the back row and also served.