HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: IHS girls win PIAA playoff opener, advance to state quarterfinals
EBENSBURG — Although the better part of each game appeared closely contested, each time the pressure swelled late, Indiana mounted a run to coolly pull away from Philipsburg-Osceola.
The Mounties made each game a scrap, but Indiana closed out three straight sets with back-breaking bursts to notch a sweep in a first-round PIAA Class AA girls’ volleyball playoff match Tuesday at Central Cambria High School. The WPIAL runner-up Indians defeated the District 6 champion Mounties by scores of 25-18, 25-19, 25-17.
Indiana (18-1), which was swept by Freeport in the WPIAL championship match Saturday, advances to play District 10 champ Conneaut in a quarterfinal-round match on Saturday afternoon at a location to be determined. Conneaut swept Knoch in its first-round match Tuesday.
Philipsburg-Osceola concluded its season with a mark of 30-6.
“Obviously this is the first round of the (state) playoffs and to get this out of the way is a big relief. … Now we move on to bigger and better things,” said Indiana senior Aaryn Gray, who collected eight kills and two aces.
The Mounties knotted the score for the fourth time in Game 1 after Indiana got whistled for its third net violation of the night to make it 12-12.
Philipsburg-Osceola committed a service error on the next point before Indiana senior Natalie Cignetti used a scorching top-spin jump serve to reel off six straight service points, a rally that gave the Indians a 19-12 lead.
Later in the game, Cignetti found a hole in the Mounties defense, and with a flick of her wrist, dropped a soft kill in between a pair of diving defenders to force game-point at 24-18.
Philipsburg-Osceola senior Kylie Scovern hit a third volley into the net on the ensuing point to seal a 25-18 win for Indiana.
“We looked comfortable late in that first game, and that was nice to see,” 11th-year Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling said. “All that pressure has been hindering them, but I think tonight, once they started rolling and doing the things that they do best, they felt a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable.”
Akin to the first game, the Mounties and Indians went back and forth in Game 2, but Indiana again pulled away late. It started with a kill from senior Helena Dadson to forge the 10th and final tie of the game at 17-17.
A kill each from senior Jill Bender, Gray and sophomore Brianna Dillon, along with an ace from senior Dana Piper, gave Indiana a 24-18 lead.
Scovern then got called for a double-volley foul two points later to stamp a 25-19 win for Indiana.
“Halfway through the match I said, ‘This feels like a section game,’” said Cignetti, who had 10 kills, two aces and just one hitting error. “The competition in the WPIAL the last two games was a little stronger, but we didn’t take that for granted. We still knew we had to come out hard and play our best.
“We start off slow every game. I swear it’s like a staple of Indiana. But we always finish strong, and that’s what’s important.”
Dillon, the Indians’ setter, surprised the Mounties’ defense and forged the seventh tie of Game 3 with a soft, two-handed kill on a second volley that made it a 14-14 game.
Thanks to a kill from Bender, two kills from Cignetti and an ace from Dillon, the Indians went on a 5-0 spurt to take a 19-14 lead.
Gray lofted a two-handed kill on a first volley five points later to stretch Indiana’s lead to six points, 22-16.
The Mounties then committed hitting errors on three of the next four points, including one on game-point, to cement a 25-17 win for Indiana.
“We played tight with them to about 16 or 17 points in each game, and then they made some big pushes,” Philipsburg-Osceola coach Dave Eckberg said. “As each game wore on we seemed to get tighter and tighter, and we definitely made some uncharacteristic mistakes. I wish I had an answer, because that wasn’t really the case this past week in districts, so I’m a little surprised. Credit Indiana, though, they made the plays when they needed to.”
An elated Dadson, who collected five blocks and four kills and had just one hitting error, talked about the how the Indians exceeded their own expectations.
“It’s really exciting,” Dadson said. “We didn’t really expect to make it this far, especially considering that our seniors were the best players on our team last year. It feels pretty awesome.”
Dillon piled up a match-high 29 assists. She said playing on a team with six senior starters and advancing this deep in the postseason feels surreal.
“It does feel surreal,” Dillon said. “My hitters have all just been so good. They can hit anything I throw up in the air, and a lot of times that’s a lot of scrappy stuff. Being here with them and playing with them has just been awesome.”
Bender added seven kills, junior Zoe Zahorchak chipped in five blocks and three kills, and Piper had seven service points and two aces.