STATE COLLEGE — The State College girls’ volleyball team needed this one.
Not just because of the impact on the Mid Penn Conference’s Commonwealth Division standings, and not just because it delivered a little payback for the Lady Little Lions’ only loss of the season.
It also was a tough late-season test and gave State College a nice dose of confidence.
In a hard-hitting battle between two of the state’s top girls’ teams, the Lady Little Lions prevailed over Cumberland Valley 25-20, 25-21, 25-19 Monday night in the North Gym.
“We definitely had to work for it, but it was so much fun,” said senior outside hitter Christine Irwin, who posted 12 kills and 13 digs. “It was a great win.”
State College (14-1, 13-1 Mid Penn) entered the match No. 7 in the state in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA poll — one spot behind Cumberland Valley (13-1, 13-1). The Eagles had prevailed in the first meeting on Sept. 25.
“We looked much better,” coach Chad Weight said. “We made some adjustments defensively, and I think that paid off in the end.”
The team also was stoked by a packed gym, with the fans making plenty of noise for the home team.
“It definitely had us wanting to come back even more with energy,” Irwin said. “We had a great fan section today, which was awesome, and we had the adrenaline rush. We wanted the payback.”
Leading the Lady Little Lions was senior outside hitter Taylor Leath, who got to put on a show for one of her future coaches. Bound for North Carolina on scholarship, Tar Heels assistant coach Eve Rackham saw Leath put down 20 kills — with plenty of sizzle on a few of those swings — to go with 16 digs.
“Once we had a little talk with her about hitting the ball a little deeper and not trying to smash everything down their throat, she adjusted very well,” Weight said.
A key stretch for Leath came midway through the second set, when the Eagles’ Emily Thomas had back-to-back blocks on some huge Leath swings. But setter Janae Moran went right back to the senior, who put put the kill off blocker Emma Hager’s hands. Then, after a State College service error, Hager stuffed a Leath swing, but again Moran sent the ball back to the senior for a cross-court kill.
“The kids know each other well enough at this point that they have this trust and chemistry,” Weight said. “As a coach, that’s what I like to see.”
Some tough serving also helped State College.
The team had just five service aces, but key service runs of points midway through all three sets helped the Lady Little Lions pull away and hold onto the lead.
“We didn’t control the ball as well as we needed to and that takes your offense out of the game,” Cumberland Valley coach Jackie Orner said.
Christine Irwin led those servers with a pair of aces.
“We served pretty tough, and I thought that made them more one-dimensional,” Weight said. “That kind of helped us defensively.”
Kyla Irwin paced the defense with four blocks, while Moran finished with 38 assists.
The Eagles got nine kills each from Karleigh Lutz, Elizabeth Scott and Hager, whil Thomas posted five blocks as the team held a 7-4 blocking advantage.
“We came to play good, hard volleyball, that didn’t happen tonight,” Orner said. “The end result was what it was, but I’m fine with the talent we have on our team, and we’ll see what we can do from here.”
With the “Dig Pink” fund-raising activities adding a little extra inspiration, the teams were most inspired by some solid competition to have them ready for district and, they hope, state playoff competition in the next few weeks.
“For us, it’s not so much the league title — that’s one of the goals,” Weight said. “It’s showing we can compete with everybody and anybody. CV’s a good team. They’re ranked high for a reason. That’s what it’s more about for us. It’s competing at this level.”