With just a couple of weeks left in the District 9 volleyball season, I thought I would take a minute to handicap the fields vying for championships in Class 1A, Class 2A, and Class 3A.
This is easily the biggest of the classifications with 13 teams sitting above .500 meaning most likely a 13-team playoff field.
That means only three teams will get a bye in the first round.
For the first time in non-COVID times, the District 9 committee will use a seeding committee to come up with the seedings.
Obviously, I am not a member of that committee but if I was this is how I would currently seed the teams
1. Elk County Catholic – This group is trying the make a trip to the District 9 title game for the second straight year and for the third time in three seasons. I would have liked to see ECC challenge itself a little bit more in out of conference action, especially with a senior-laden team that lost to PIAA Champion Maplewood in the first round a year ago. Tori Newton and Reagan Bauer give the Lady Crusaders a formabidle hitting duo up from, while Kiri Emmert is one of the top setters in D9.
2. Clarion-Limestone – The Lady Lions have played perhaps the second toughest schedule in D9 behind Clarion and have a win over the Lady Cats. Jenna Dunn has become a leader on this squad and has gotten plenty of help from freshman Hannah Beggs and a host of others, including sophomore setter Kaylee Smith.
3. Clarion – No one should ever question this program being seeded higher than some one-loss teams. The Lady Cats have played a lot of the year without their top player, Hadlee Campbell, who has a legitimate shot at being back before the KSAC playoffs next week, and still has just one loss in D9, to unbeaten C-L. The other two losses are to a pair of District 10 powerhouses in four-time defending D10 Class 3A champion Conneaut and Corry, a serious contender for the D10 Class 2A title, With Campbell out, that has forced others to step up in hitting roles like Marley Kline and Alicyn Burford which could go a long way to making this team one of the favorites in the end.
4. Sheffield – Don’t sleep on the Lady Wolverines whose only loss is to unbeaten ECC. I put Sheffield here over Coudersport because I just believe the NTL is done a little bit this year as evidence of four-win Johnsonburg beating 10-win Port Allegany a week ago. Kassidy Orinko has been a strong net-front presence all season, while Kadence Steffan runs the offense for Sheffield,
5. Coudersport – The Lady Falcons are the class of the NTL after five-set win over Oswayo Valley last week Sierra Myers is a double-digit kill machine who gets plenty of help from Savannah Myers and others.
6. Oswayo Valley – Last year’s D9 1A champion and PIAA semifinalist – the Green Wave lost to eventual champion Maplewood – aren’t as deep as they were last year but still possess one of the top players in D9 in Olivia Cook. OV took Coudy down to the wire last week after handing the Lady Falcons their only loss of the season back on Sept. 11
7. Redbank Valley – The Lady Bulldogs have a pair of losses to unbeaten C-L and another to Clarion, but it is losses to Keystone and Punxsutawney that keep Redbank Valley from being a bit of a higher seed here. It’s been an iron six all season for the Lady Bulldogs led by Taylor Ripple and Mylee Harmon.
8. Otto-Eldred – A lot of people thought the Lady Terrors would take a step backward this season after the loss of key players and their coach. But Carrie Drummond has been the season-long leader for her dad, the new head coach, Dan Drummond, and a win over Austin last week solidified the Lady Terrors ahead of the Lady Panthers.
9. Austin – What a year it has been for the Lady Panthers, including a win over Oswayo Valley. A strong senior class that has been playing together since they were freshmen have led the way.
That includes key offensive players Jade Williams and Savannah Horton, key defender Ella Brewer, and setter Marah Fowler.
10. North Clarion – The She-Wolves have had a very nice season under first-year head coach Bobbi Freeman, who has relied on her daughter, sophomore Kyler Freeman, to lead the way. North Clarion could have made a push for a higher seed but the loss of second-leading hitter Brenna Thompson to an ankle injury took some time to me accounted for
11. DuBois Central Catholic – The Lady Cardinals have flown a bit under the radar all season but three of DCC’s four losses have come to one or no-loss teams in ECC, C-L, and Sheffield. Jessy Frank, Emma Elensky, and Kayley Risser, names that should be familiar to most D9 fans of multiple sports, have led the way
12. Brockway – The Lady Rovers are another team that has had a turn-around season, and Darren Morelli’s bunch is another squad that has played some of the top teams hard. Lauren Rendos leads the way on offense, while Kalina Powell is one of the best Liberos/Defensive specialists in D9.
13. Port Allegany – The Lady Gators would be higher in my seeding, but the recent loss to Johnsonburg just keeps sticking in my mind and is hard to erase. But this is a team that really shows the parity, especially in the bottom half of this bracket, and is capable of beating anyone. Ella Moses, Lily Lehmier, and Kayleigha Dowell lead the way up front, while Isla Lemier is a capable setter running the offense.
To me this is really a three-team horse race with ECC, Clarion-Limestone, and Clarion a notch above the rest. All of me wants to pick the Lady Crusaders to win the title this year, but either of the Clarion teams are more than capable of making a run, and a healthy Hadlee Campbell could be the difference-maker in a rematch between the teams.
Coudersport and Oswayo Valley are capable of beating anyone, and Sheffield can’t wait to show what it can do if not paired in the opening round against one of the top teams. Redbank Valley has played both Clarion and C-L tough but also has had spurts where it looks very beatable. But do any of these teams have the firepower to beat one of the favorites? That is the big question that will soon be answered.
Who among the rest has the best shot at pulling an upset? Two NTL teams, Otto-Eldred and Austin have shown that ability, and DCC is definitely athletic enough to catch someone on a down day.
This is an interesting bracket if for no other reason than I don’t see a clear-cut favorite among the teams with plus .500 records – Punxsutawney, Cranberry, Keystone, and Kane.
Heck, even seeding these four right now isn’t easy with a key Cranberry/Keystone matchup coming up Thursday being a determining factor in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 seeds.
Punxsutawney has some decent wins but also a couple of losses it probably wishes it had back.
For now, I would say
1. Punxsutawney – The Lady Chucks possess perhaps the deepest roster of the 2A squads led by Ciara Toven, Samantha Griebel, and Danielle Griebel
2/3 Winner of Cranberry/Keystone will be No. 2 and the loser will be No. 3. Cranberry has perhaps the top player in the KSAC in outside hitter Ayanna Ferringer and some solid players to go around her, while a young Keystone squad has rode the offense of Ava Patrick and the defense of Gwyn Manno into a solid second half of the season.
4. Kane – The defending champion has struggled at times this season but you should never count the champ out. Kane is led by the “M” squad of Mia Anderson and Maya Smith while Elizabeth Yasurek has run the offense.
DuBois is the lone real contender here, although St. Marys could get in to give the district a title game. The Lady Beavers are paced by Morgan Pasternak and Hayley Reed.