WARREN, Pa. – A trip to the PIAA Class 1A championship match is on the line when District 10 champion Maplewood squares off against District 9 champion Elk County Catholic in the semifinals at 6 p.m. at Warren High School.
If fans can’t make the game, the YDL Sports Network will be offering a video stream of the contest.
Maplewood (18-3) is the defending Class 1A champion and is looking for its 10th trip to the PIAA championship match.
ECC (19-0) is looking for its first PIAA championship appearance since making it back-to-back years in Class 2A in the old two-class system in 1985 and 1986. The Crusaders lost both of those, including a 2-1 (9-15, 15-12, 16-14) decision to Maplewood in 1985, the Tigers’ first PIAA title.
The teams are familiar with each other having met in the PIAA first round a year ago when Maplewood, on its home court, swept D9 runner-up ECC, 3-0 (25-13, 25-18, 25-20).
While many of the key players for ECC are back, Maplewood had to reload in a hurry after losing three of its top players from a year ago including the YDL Sports Network District 10 Player of the Year Sadie Thomas.
But reload the Tigers have done.
Led by senior middle hitter Elizabeth Hunter, one of the few returning starters from a year ago, the Tigers beat rival Cochranton two out of three times during the season, including in the District 10 title match, and then dispatched WPIAL third-place finisher Frazier, 3-1 (26-28, 25-17, 25-14, 25-10) and WPIAL runner-up Bishop Canevin (28-26, 25-19, 26-24) in the first two rounds of the PIAA playoffs.
Hunter had a team-best 350 kills on the season while adding 45 blocks.
She is helped on offense by fellow senior Savannah O’Hara (179 kills, 26 blocks) and junior outside hitter Madison O’Hara, Savannah’s sister, who had 187 kills and 50 aces.
Sophomore Maggie Means took over the setter spot from the graduated Bailey Varndell and has been strong with 773 set assists while adding 83 kills and 63 aces.
Means has added 204 digs while Madison O’Hara has 237 digs.
As good as both of those players have been on defense, sophomore Bree Neely, the Libero, and freshman Lexy Potosky, a defensive specialist, had led the way on defense with Potosky contributing 331 digs and Neely 318.
Another freshman, outside hitter Bailey Moyer, has come on strong as the season has progressed and has stepped into a bigger role as well.
ECC, which beat Clarion-Limestone to win its first District 9 title since 1996 before taking down D6 runner-up Homer-Center, 3-1 (25-21, 25-19, 25-27, 28-26), and WPIAL champion Serra Catholic, 3-0 (25-23, 29-27, 25-16), in the PIAA playoffs, is led by the two-headed senior monster up front in Tori Newton and Reagan Bauer.
Newton, the PAVCA District 9 Class 1A MVP, leads the Crusaders with 292 kills while Bauer has added 216. Newton went over 1,000 career kills during the District 9 playoffs.
Fellow Lucy Klawuhn has shown an ability to not only put the ball away – she has nine matches with five or more kills – but is also arguably ECC’s best defensive player and is coming off a 21-dig effort in the victory over Serra Catholic, including 11 digs in the first set.
Tori Newton’s younger sister, Payton, a sophomore, has stepped up as the season has progressed and has five or more kills in 7 of her last 10 matches, while recording 12 in a pair of PIAA playoff matches, including seven in the win over Serra Catholic.
Senior Kiri Emmert runs the offense for the Crusaders. She achieved 1,000 career set assists in just two seasons and has 612 on the year.
ECC has rarely been pushed this year and has dropped just three sets all season – one to D9 2A champion Kane, one to Johnsonburg, and one to Homer-Center.
Maplewood has had to fight more this season.
Its three losses were all against high-quality opponents – D10 3A champion Warren in five sets, D10 3A runner-up Meadville, and Cochranton – and also had a five-set win over Cochranton.
This will be the fourth meeting all-time in the PIAA playoffs (not counting pool play games) between ECC and Maplewood with the Tigers winning the first three.
In addition to last year’s Maplewood sweep and the Tigers’ 1985 PIAA win, Maplewood also won in the 2014 Class 1A first round, 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-12).
The winner will get the winner of the other semifinal between West Branch, the District 6 champion, and Mt. Calvary Christian, the District 3 champion. That match is set for 6:30 p.m. at Mifflin County High School in Lewistown. West Branch fell, 3-0, to Maplewood in last year’s PIAA championship match.
The PIAA championship match will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Cumberland Valley High School.