WARREN, Pa. – For the first time since 1986, Elk County Catholic will play for a state volleyball title.
Rewatch the match:
The District 9 champion Crusaders (20-0) ousted the District 10 and defending state champion Tigers, 3-0 (25-16, 26-24, 28-26) to punch their ticket to the state final.
“This feeling is unreal right now,” said senior Tori Newton, the Allegheny Grille of Foxburg Player of the Game, during the Cole Orthodontic Associates postgame interview. “We are just so excited.”
Newton led ECC with 19 kills to go along with 19 digs, as the Crusaders needed extra points in both the second and third sets to advance.
“We knew they were going to come at it,” Newton said. “They wanted to get back to the state championship. We lost to them last year (3-0 in the PIAA first round) so we weren’t going to let that happen again. We just played our game and it worked.”
See Newton’s full interview:
The dramatics of the second and third sets were a stark contrast to the first set.
In the first, the two teams were tied at 15-15 before the Crusaders went on a 7-0 run to take control.
Newton and Reagan Bauer, who had 13 kills to go along with 19 digs, helped key the spurt for ECC.
It was a run that has mirrored their season in some ways.
“As the season kept going on, I kept getting more faith in us and thought we could do it,” Reagan Bauer said. “Now we’re here and we’re doing it.”
See Bauer’s full interview:
The second set was much different.
Elk County Catholic led 22-19, but Maplewood rallied to tie it at 22-22. After ECC went up 24-22, Maplewood (18-4) rattled off the next two points, with a kill from Elizabeth Hunter (one of her team-high 20) tying it up.
A big swing from Newton and a hitting error from Maplewood gave ECC the next two points and a 26-24 win.
“I knew we could do well,” Elk County Catholic coach Tricia Bauer said of her team coming into the season. “We were really just focusing on being the district champs and getting back there. I knew we had the talent, we just had to be a team and trust each other. And we’re there. They’re playing fantastic ball.”
Maplewood jumped out to an 11-7 lead in the third set before ECC rallied to tie it at 18-all.
Maplewood had set point at 24-23 (after a Hunter kill), but back-to-back blocks from Newton and Ashlynn Schutz gave ECC match point.
A hitting error by ECC tied it at 25 and a double hit against the Crusaders gave Maplewood set point again at 26-25.
ECC went on a 3-0 run to end the match thanks to a block with Newton and Schutz at the net, a kill from Newton, and a Schutz ace to send them to the state championship.
“Just playing a little bit better every game,” coach Bauer said of her team’s postseason run. “Every game they got their stats and they know they have to push harder, push their teammates a little harder. We compete against ourselves and make ourselves better.”
Kiri Emmert was excellent for ECC with 33 set assists, while Schutz had five aces, five blocks and 13 digs, and Lucy Klawuhn 16 digs.
“I saw some tears, I haven’t seen tears from them at all over the last four years,” coach Bauer said.
For Maplewood, Savannah O’Hara had six kills, Madison O’Hara four aces and 17 digs, Bree Neely 24 digs and Maggie Means 32 set assists.
“I don’t believe that there is anybody who thought we would be back here in this situation,” said Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft. “It was a banner year. Region champion, district champion, third in the state. I’m extremely proud of how they didn’t quit. We went down battling. I believed the whole time we could come back, we just made some key errors.
“We knew they (ECC) had two strong outsides. They played a little better defense than I anticipated. We had two sets we had opportunities to finish we just couldn’t finish. We have matured so much. The seniors took that leadership role and our young girls matured tremendously.”
ECC will meet District 6 champion West Branch, a 3-1 (26-24, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17) semifinal winner over District 3 champion Mt. Calvary Christian, for the state title on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. from Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg. West Branch lost in the 2022 PIAA title match to Maplewood.
The two teams are familiar with one another, with West Branch most recently winning over ECC in tournament action back on Oct. 21, 2-1 (22-25, 25-17, 15-6). The Warriors also downed ECC, 27-25, in a one-set showdown at the West Branch Tournament back in September.
“It’s very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Reagan Bauer said. “It’s a big gym and a different place than we’re used to playing at, but it’s really exciting.”