ALTOONA — It was simply asking too much of the Bald Eagle Area girls’ volleyball team. The Lady Eagles put on a startling comeback on the semifinals of the District 6 Class AA tournament at the Altoona Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon, but had to turn around and play one of the best teams in the state less than a half-hour later.
Huntingdon made short work of BEA in the title match, sweeping the Lady Eagles 25-14, 25-12, 25-17 for the Lady Bearcats’ fifth district crown in the last six years and the 15th in school history.
“They’re such a solid team,” BEA coach Larry Campbell said. “They’re the beast of the area. Hopefully we’re building on something here and we’ve got something going.”
It was a tough match emotionally for the Lady Eagles after they rallied to beat Penn Cambria in five games in the semifinal. The Lady Panthers won the first two games, though in the second game BEA cut a 20-10 deficit to 23-22 before falling and that set them up for the rest of the match.
The Lady Eagles then fought off three match points before Danielle Reese pounded down kills on the final two points for the win, bringing jubilation from the BEA bench and a busload of students storming the court.
“Winning that game felt like winning a district final,” Campbell said. “We got 40, 50 kids running across two courts and it’s a big huddle. I said. ‘OK, we’ve got five seconds.’”
He was not that far off in the time. The Lady Eagles sat around for about 10 minutes to catch their breath, then warmed up a little and were lining up to serve within a half hour, digging deep for whatever they had left.
“I was going to give it all I had anyways,” Reese said. “I knew I was going to push through it, even if I was tired.” It was pretty impressive that Reese’s right arm was not dragging on the ground after that opening match. She took 99 swings, connecting on 29 for kills to hit .212.
“The middle of Game 3 Dani finally took the training wheels off and bombed the ball,” Campbell said. “It was kind of an explosion on the bench and kids got into it emotionally. We were flat for two games.”
While the attitude was positive, there was only so much BEA could do against a roster filled with seniors who have loads of postseason experience.
Huntingdon was so balanced, no one made it to double figures in kills but four girls had at least seven. Brittni Speck led with nine and seven each came from Megan Tomlinson, Sarah Ritchey and Kim Jackson.
Reese led BEA in the final with 10 kills, Meghan Granite added six kills and two blocks, Libby Sprankle had 11 digs and Ashley Hamilton gave out 21 assists.
While the turnaround was tight between matches, BEA actually was prepared to face the Bearcats, in part because they lost to Huntingdon twice during the regular season and also because it was a topic in practice on Friday, when Campbell brought in former coach Chad Oberholtzer and Bellefonte coach Chad Weight to play the roles of Huntingdon players on the court.
While BEA went the distance in their semifinal, Huntingdon also got a test from Philipsburg-Osceola in the other semifinal, winning in four games (25-17, 25-18, 21-25, 25-14) for one of the few games the Bearcats have surrendered all season. “We really hustled today,” Natasha Frank said after racking up 13 kills in the loss. “We had a good season but it just stinks that we had to lose to Huntingdon again.”
P-O found its ground in the third game with some big kills from Frank and Taylor Harpster, but the team simply was not consistent enough against the relentless defense of the defending champions.
“We’ve been an inconsistent hitting team all year,” P-O assistant coach Dave Eckberg said. “We try to cut back on it and we’ve been fairly successful, but against a team like Huntingdon you just can’t get away with that kind if stuff and it comes back to haunt you.”
Harpster led the team with 15 kills and three aces, Kelsey Gonder had 36 assists, Ashley Matson added eight kills and Maria Dininno posted 20 digs.
Tomlinson led the Lady Bearcats with 11 kills while Jackson and Ritchey each added 10, McNeal had 20 digs and Speck and Frederick each made three blocks.
With Huntingdon losing eight seniors, including all seven starters, and BEA and P-O each returning nearly the entire roster, a little notice was served Saturday even if both teams lost to the Bearcats.
“Philipsburg and Bald Eagle both are young and have really strong teams,” Huntingdon coach Priscilla Gibboney said. “They made us work and I’m glad.”
In that semifinal comeback, Megan Shaw added nine kills and five blocks, Granite had 10 kills, Hamilton recorded 47 assists, Sprankle had 21 digs and Lauren Catherman and Chelsey Skrepek each served up four aces. “I’m really excited for next season,” Reese said. “I didn’t want this one to end.”