HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: IHS stays unbeaten, scores sweep in playoffs
Indiana alleviated the initial pressure of plucking the top seed in the WPIAL Class AA girls’ volleyball playoffs the only way it could: by sweeping Yough in convincing fashion.
Even on what players and coaches considered an off night, unbeaten Indiana easily handled its business to blank 16th-seeded Yough, 25-11, 25-16, 25-15, in a first-round playoff match Thursday night at Fifth Street Gymnasium.
Indiana (15-0) clinched its seventh straight section title and its second in a row in Section 3-AA earlier this month. The Indians will face Elizabeth Forward in a quarterfinal-round match Tuesday at a site to be determined.
Eighth-seeded Elizabeth Forward defeated Beaver, 3-1, in a first-round match Thursday.
“The top seed does have a lot of pressure, so obviously a lot of us are thinking about that,” Indiana senior outside hitter Aaryn Gray, who finished with six kills and three aces, said.
“But Coach O (Malinda Oesterling) made sure that we didn’t look ahead and that we were only focusing on what was happening.
“We definitely feel relieved that this first playoff match is over, and we’re happy with how we played and how the match ended.”
The Cougars kept in striking distance in Game 1 until Indiana senior defensive specialist Dana Piper reeled off four straight service points to give the Indians a 14-6 lead.
Senior outside hitter Natalie Cignetti then fooled a pair of Yough defenders when she ended a long volley with a clever and soft one-handed kill to stretch Indiana’s lead to 21-9.
Later in the game, Yough’s Summer Eckles committed a service error to force game-point at 24-11.
Katie Cosalter then ripped a kill attempt deep out of bounds on the next point to seal a 25-11 win for Indiana.
“I think that the girls came out and did what they needed to do in Game 1,” Oesterling said. “I thought we served tough, and serving tough against a team that doesn’t have the most experienced passers means an awful lot. You can really throw them out of their system.”
The Indians and Cougars exchanged blows for the better part of Game 2 before senior middle hitter Helena Dadson smacked a kill to spark a run and trim Yough’s lead to one point, 12-11.
Sophomore setter Brianna Dillon followed with five straight service points, one being an ace, to give Indiana a 16-12 lead.
The Indians then won eight of the next 12 points to take a 24-16 lead.
Gray drilled a kill off the wrist of Cosalter on game-point to cement a 25-16 win.
“We obviously have a talented front row,” Gray said. “We’re a triple threat. We can score from the right side, the middle and from the left, and that’s big for Bri (Dillon) and the entire team. It keeps teams on their toes.
“(If) Natalie gets a big kill on the outside, they’re going to inch over towards her, and that’s when our right-side hitter, Jill (Bender), steps in and takes care of business. It’s just so nice having three of us.”
Cignetti, who frustrated Yough defenders all night with her top-spin jump-serve and her high-velocity hitting style, took over midway through Game 3.
With the score knotted 12-12, the Indians went on a 9-1 run to take a 21-13 lead. Cignetti piled up three kills and an ace on the run, while Bender added a kill and Dillon tallied an ace.
Gray buried a kill to make it game-point at 24-15.
The Cougars sealed their own fate on the next point and got whistled for a double volley to secure a 25-15 win for Indiana.
Cignetti amassed six kills and three aces in the deciding game. Like Gray, Cignetti admitted that carrying the top seed added unwanted stress.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure being the number one team. All the teams are out to get you, although we knew that coming into this,” Cignetti, who racked up a game-high 12 kills and five aces, said. “We started off a little slow, but this game really put things into prospective for us. We know we have to come out and play harder in the next round, and we’re hoping we can build as we go.”
Yough coach Frank German pointed out that his team hadn’t faced such a dynamic offensive force as Cignetti in Section 7-AA, an issue that required his players to adjust on the go against the venomous hitter.
“In the section that we play in, we just don’t see hitters putting that kind of downward force on the ball,” German said. “She’s just a handful. She has a really good jump serve, and they hit her from the back and front rows. She’s just hard to keep track of, plus they do a really good job of disguising where she’s coming from.”
German also admitted that the Cougars had yet to face a team with such defensive gusto as Indiana.
Indiana senior libero Alexandra Kerr, the team’s go-to defensive specialist, said she takes pride in representing the team’s scrappiest defender.
“I definitely take pride in that,” Kerr said. “I love doing it and the blockers really help me out a lot. You’ve just got to watch them and go off of their movements. They help me a lot.”