PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. – For the first time since 1986 and for the third time in school history, Elk County Catholic is headed to the PIAA volleyball semifinals.
The District 9 champion Lady Crusaders advanced with a 3-0 (25-23, 29-27, 25-16) win over WPIAL champion Serra Catholic in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Punxsutawney High School.
“These girls are just amazing,” ECC head coach Tricia Bauer said. “This senior class has not lost a regular-season game. We’ve never said it is our year. We have said we have to work every game, every battle, every practice, every point. These girls really do deserve to be here. They have worked hard. They’ve had some setbacks in the past. This year, they have just picked it up. I really like how we supported our teammates today and did a really good job of picking each other up and pushing forward.”
Watch the final point
ECC jumped up big in each of the three sets but had to rally in the first two to secure wins.
In the first set, the Lady Crusaders led 13-4 only to watch Serra Catholic go on a 15-5 to take a 19-18 lead.
With the set tied at 21, a carry put ECC up for good, and then a service error by Serra Catholic followed by a Payton Newton kill gave the Lady Crusaders a 1-0 lead.
“I think with us getting a high lead sometimes we might sit back a little bit,” senior Lucy Klawuhn said. “I think that is a little bit of a downfall for us. But we always push back. We wanted it.”
The second set saw ECC start fast again taking an 11-3 before the Eagles cut the deficit to 13-11.
The Lady Crusaders then pushed the advantage to 21-14 before a 7-1 Serra Catholic run closed the gap to 22-21.
ECC, though, looked like it was on the verge of taking the set on a Payton Newton kill that made it 24-21.
But a hitting error and two kills by Cassidy Trahan tied the set at 24.
“Serra is a very, very good team,” Tricia Bauer said. “We knew going in that their defense was fast and they pick up everything and don’t quit. I think the first couple of games we weren’t really ready even though we were ready.”
Another Payton Newton kill made it 25-24 ECC before a net violation and an Emerson Trahan put the Eagles on the verge of tying the match.
But Ashlynn Schutz responded with a set-tying kill for ECC.
Serra Catholic went up again, 27-26, but this time Tori Newton, Payton’s older sister, tied the set at 27, and back-to-back hitting errors by the Eagles put the Lady Crusaders one set away from advancing.
“We just had to play our game, relax a little bit, not get in our heads,” Tori Newton said. “Just do what we do, and it worked.”
The third set again saw ECC race out early building an 11-4 lead.
But unlike the first two sets, there was no comeback for Serra Catholic, as ECC kept the pressure on until the end of the set to take the set and the match by nine points.
“I think we made them get a little frustrated,” Klawuhn said. “I think we kept pushing. We wanted it so we just kind of took them down.”
Tori Newton led ECC’s offense with 18 kills while hitting .419 (18 kills, 0 errors, 43 attempts) with Reagan Bauer adding 14 kills.
“They left the line open a little bit,” Tori Newton said. “But it was just all the passers and Kiri (Emmert) the setter. I can’t hit anywhere without them.”
Emmert had 36 set assists and added nine digs, and Payton Newton chipped in six kills.
“There is not a girl that I don’t have confidence in,” Tricia Bauer said. “Kiri gets to every ball, my passers do well, the hitters do well, the blockers.”
Klawuhn was a force on defense with 21 digs, including 11 in the first set.
“I knew with their setter, she tips a lot,” Klawuhn said. “And I knew they push and tip a lot. I just had to kind of read where they were going to push it, and I just had to get there.”
Watch Tori Newton and Klawuhn talk about the match on the Cole Orthodontic Associates postgame interview.
Klawuhn’s coach said her ability to read the ball is what allows her to get to a lot of balls.
“Lucy does really well reading the ball,” Tricia Bauer said. “She doesn’t get a lot of credit because she doesn’t get a lot of swings. But she does very, very well defensively.”
Cassidy Trahan had 11 kills to lead Serra Catholic, including nine in the second set, despite playing as the Libero in the first set (the Eagles changed Liberos in each set). Trahan finished a double-double with 10 digs, including six in the opening set when she was wearing the dark jersey.
Cate Clarke added five kills, four in the second set, for the Eagles, while Caitlyn Cooley had 13 digs.
ECC will face Maplewood in the semifinals Tuesday at a site and time to be announced. It is a rematch of a first-round match a year ago won by Maplewood, 3-0, on its way to the state title. In fact, the Tigers are 3-0 all-time in the state playoffs against ECC including a 2-1 win in the 1985 Class 2A state championship match, the first of two state runner-up finishes for the Lady Crusaders.
“I don’t think we look at them like they are defending state champions,” Tricia Bauer said. “We look at them like they are a team. We have to beat them. We just look at every team like they are a team. They are a team of girls that can be beat. We don’t have this mentality that someone is bigger than us or anything. It’s very calm.”