DuBOIS — Northern Cambria is back to playing volleyball the only way it knows how.
Now a familiar postseason foe is all that stands between the defending state champion and a return to the title match.
Quickly putting a sluggish tournament opener in the past, Northern Cambria left little doubt regarding its intentions Saturday, using a strong start to cruise past District 10 champion Cochranton in four sets, 25-17, 25-18, 19-25, 25-14, in a PIAA Class 1A quarterfinal-round match at DuBois Central Catholic.
The Colts admittedly weren’t themselves beginning Tuesday’s first-round win over Fort Cherry, when they fell into a one-set deficit before claiming the next three. But the District 6 champions were no worse for wear with another state title bid within their sights.
“They put it behind them pretty quickly. This time of the year you can’t really dwell on those past games,” Northern Cambria coach Mike Hogan said. “We came out firing in this game. We played a lot better than we did against Fort Cherry. Our kids were fired up for the game. We had a good match today.”
Northern Cambria (21-1) will take on District 9 champion Clarion (18-1) in the state semifinals Tuesday at a place and time to be determined in what will be the third postseason match between the two teams in as many years.
The Colts defeated the Bobcats in state the quarterfinals in 2018, one year after Clarion ousted Northern Cambria in the same round.
In Clarion’s quarterfinal match Saturday, the Bobcats swept past District 6 runner-up Bishop Carroll, which the Colts romped past in three sets to claim the district championship.
Now with the stakes higher than ever — in a rubber match betweens teams that jockeyed over the top spot in the state rankings throughout the season — Northern Cambria will need to be at its best to contend for a chance at a championship triple crown.
“We’re familiar with them,” Hogan said. “We know their coach and we know their kids. It’s going to be two good small-school volleyball teams going at it. It’s going to be a special night. The team that can handle a positive attitude and make great plays is going to win that game. It’s going to be very exciting.”
“They’re super-excited. You make that transition from training and pushing hard. Now it’s stay focused and stay sharp. … I’ve always said my kids are really good an a big stage. They really embrace that. We talk about how little things make a big difference.”
Maintaining the serve proved to be the key Saturday against Cochranton (15-5) after the Colts sometimes struggled to put the ball in play in the first round.
And when the Cardinals did force Northern Cambria into an extended volley with their advantage size and aggressive play at the net, the Colts dug in to set the tone.
“Our serving was particularly sharp,” Hogan said. “Our serving made it difficult on Cochran to get their offense started. That was kind of a neutralizing thing. They couldn’t get their net game going. Jenna Lutch had a lot of service points. She has kind of a change up-type serve. It just gave them all kinds of trouble. We were getting all fired up about that, because that’s not normally her strength.
“Maggie (Hogan) and Camryn (Dumm), they’re a dynamic group. They had a real solid match today. Our middles played really well. I give a lot of credit to our blockers and diggers, because they had two good left-handed hitters. It’s a drastically different look. We didn’t’ make a big deal out of that and our kids handled it really well.”