ST. MARYS — Denying Kane in a five-set win to claim the District 9 Class 2A title a year ago, the Redbank Valley Lady Bulldogs volleyball team couldn’t match that effort in a rematch last Saturday at St. Marys Area High School.
This time around, the Lady Wolves exacted some revenge with a three-set sweep of the Lady Bulldogs for their first championship since 2004 in a 27-25, 25-17, 25-23 for Kane, which led the Redbank Valley 13-11 in the fifth set of last year’s final before a late rally gave Redbank Valley the crown.
In the opening set, Kane staged a comeback of its own, trailing 23-19 after a service error in the opening set before rallying for the win. That set the tone the rest of the way as the Lady Wolves won their fourth district championship under Judy Kessler, the head coach since 1990.
“I have three girls back from last year and those three that remain know what it felt to lose that fifth set and should’ve won,” Kessler said. “I’m super-proud how these kids show their heart and soul and let it all out on the floor. Physically we’re not the biggest or fastest or super-methodical like Otto-Eldred (Class A champion earlier in the day), they just play and run what we can run.”
The three back were all big keys with senior Trinity Clark, junior Ella Marconi and Hannah Buhl leading way. Marconi had 17 kills, Clarion finished with 16 and Buhl, the team’s setter, went over 1,000 career assists. Audri Marconi added five kills and four blocks.
It was Clark, the driving force in Kane’s come-from-behind five-set win over Brookville Wednesday, who led the late first-set charge with three kills in the 6-2 rally to end the set.
From there, the momentum was solidly behind Kane.
“I thought it was everything,” Lady Bulldogs head coach Matt Darr said of the first set loss. “Going in, we hadn’t played them since the A-C Valley Tournament and split with them, something like 25-17 and 25-18, so there were some mismatched sets and after the first 10 or so points (today), not knowing what they were going to be and knowing they were passing well lately and have (Clark and Marconi), I thought really good about the way we were playing.”
Two straight Emily Gourley kills gave the Lady Bulldogs their 23-19 lead, but they couldn’t finish things off.
“We led the whole set by fairly wide margins and we just couldn’t hold on to it and this is a game of momentum,” Darr said. “Not that it ended the match, but we just couldn’t get that momentum swing back in our favor. It’s peaks and valleys and we’d get peak but it was just two or three points and couldn’t get that 5-6 point swing to get them down.
“Unfortunately, volleyball is a game of errors. In basketball, if you travel, the other team doesn’t get any points. In this game, if you make an error, it’s a point for the other team. That’s what we’ll dwell on and I will until Aug. 15 of next year, but we had some great things this season too.”
Gourley and Josie Rupp each had seven kills for Redbank Valley, which finished 13-5. Kianna Shreckengost had three kills while Carissa Rearick served three aces.
The Lady Bulldogs led 10-7 to start the second set before a 7-1 run that was fueled by kills from Marconi and Clark and two aces from Buhl. Redbank Valley got it back to within 17-15 before another big run, 8-2, by Kane clinched the set.
Then in the third set, the Lady Bulldogs were up 10-9 when Kane put together another decisive 11-1 run to put the title run away. The Lady Bulldogs fought off four match points before Kane sealed the 25-23 clincher.
“At times in the second set we started tipping the ball some because we were afraid of making an error, but down the stretch they were playing to win and that’s all I can ask from them,” said Darr. “I don’t think they wanted more than us. We did too, but didn’t execute well enough at times. They passed better, put pressure on us and we couldn’t put pressure back on them. That gave their big girls a chance to hit a lot of balls.”
Just one senior, Gourley, leaves the roster for next year.
“She’s been such a leader the last six years and that’s something you don’t know if you can replace or not,” Darr said. “We’ll have the same team back and the same potential to put ourselves in good positions, but we’ll see if we have the leadership on and off the court. In high school sports, I think that means a lot more than the ability than the players who are out on the field.”
— Kane (13-5), the top three finishers in Class 1A in Otto-Eldred, A-C Valley and Clarion, and Class 3A champion DuBois were in action Tuesday night in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Lady Wolves faced WPIAL fourth seed Serra Catholic in the second match of a doubleheader also at St. Marys. Class 1A champion Otto-Eldred faced WPIAL third seed Frazier in the first game.
Tuesday’s winners advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinal round with the semifinals set for next Tuesday. The PIAA Championships are next Saturday at Richland High School in Johnstown.
In last Wednesday’s semifinals:
Lady Bulldogs sweep
At New Bethlehem, the Lady Bulldogs earned a finals trip with a 25-21, 25-20, 25-22 win over fourth-seeded Karns City.
Emily Gourley and Josie Rupp combined for 24 kills with 14 and 10 respectively.
“Emily and Josie have been our go to girls at the net all season,” said Darr. “It’s great to see because Emily is our only senior and she’s been a leader on and off the court as a senior.”
ToriLynn Nelson also added four kills. Gourley contributed five blocks while serving for six points with three aces. Rupp served for seven points with three aces.
Tara Hinderliter handed out 19 assists while serving for six points. Kristen Shaffer picked up 18 digs while Shylie Shreckengost added 12 digs. Jordan Milliron served for seven points with four aces.
“The girls stepped up tonight,” said Darr. “We had a girl who was in a car accident on Monday so she was unable to play tonight. We also had a couple freshman on the D.C. trip. All season we’ve had different girls step in and step up and tonight was no exception.”
The Lady Bulldogs would jump out to their largest lead at 17-11 before Karns City battle back to close to within two at 23-21 before Redbank closed out the first set 25-21.
Redbank would bolt to an 11-4 lead in the second set before once again the Lady Gremlins would respond with a 6-1 run to close to within two at 12-10. The Lady Bulldogs then pushed their lead back to six at 18-12 before Karns City once again rallied to tie the score 20-all. This time a 5-0 run by the Lady Bulldogs with Shaffer serving for the final four points gave Redbank the 25-20 victory.
“That’s been our Achilles heal this season where we get leads and haven’t been closing teams out like we should,” said Darr. “We had a game at Elk where we led like 20-12 and couldn’t finish it. Even though we lost 3-0 to both A-C Valley and Clarion, we had leads in those matches. We led Clarion 10-0 and A-C 11-4. Tonight we were able to pull things together at the right time.”
Once again Redbank led 17-11 in the third set before Karns City fought back to tie the set 17-all. After being tied at 19, Karns City would take a 21-19 lead forcing a Lady Bulldogs timeout. Redbank would gain a side out following the timeout for a 21-20 score, but a service error would put the Lady Gremlins back up 22-20. A side-out and a point would tie the game 22-all before Rupp came through with a strong kills putting Redbank back in the lead at 23-22 forcing a Lady Gremlins timeout.
Milliron then came through with consecutive service aces giving Redbank the game and the match 25-22.