Altoona knows how to make the State College girls’ volleyball team work for a win.
In the end, the Lady Little Lions figured it out.
With the last of her 14 kills hitting the floor, Alli Henderson sealed up State College’s 25-23, 25-21, 24-25, 25-12 victory at Tyrone Middle School on Wednesday night. It gave the Lady Little Lions (19-0) the District 6 Class AAAA title, the program’s sixth straight crown.
“We had to earn this one,” coach Chad Weight said. “It wasn’t given. We had to dig in.”
State College will next face McDowell in a PIAA subregional at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Altoona Fieldhouse, with the winner advancing to the PIAA opening round.
While the Lady Little Lions may have won the first two sets, they were not at their best.
Passing was off the mark, and there were very few crisp plays. It caught up to them in the third, trailing nearly the entire frame and falling behind by as many as five points.
“I felt, even the first two sets, we were very rigid, very slow,” Weight said. “I’m not sure what to attribute that to. It’s not like we haven’t been here before.”
It’s also not like State College didn’t know what was coming. Time and again the Lady Little Lions have met Altoona in the postseason and been frustrated by the Lady Spikers’ good defense, offspeed swings and change of tempo.
“We knew it was coming,” Weight said. “… We made some adjustments. The kids did a better job understanding after it happened a few times. We talked about it again. It got better.”
They were tactics coach Karan Price knew had to be made. Her top hitter of the night, Kylee Clawson had 10 kills, is just 5-foot-5.
“Offensively they’re definitely stronger,” Price said. “I thought our defense was pretty solid. We held them off defensively as long as we could. They just had a few more offensive weapons, and unfortunately we made too many errors.”
So, as Price’s team held leads of 23-18 and 24-21 in the third, the Lady Little Lions finally started to figure things out. They roared back to get one set point before Altoona finally took the frame, then were ready for the fourth.
“The last five, six points of that third game,” Weight said, “was more indicative of how we play.”
State College then used a 9-1 run midway through the fourth set to dispel any doubt who would be taking the trophy home.
“Our team just knew we had more in us,” Henderson said. “We just needed to turn it around. I knew the second we started that last (set) that we had it in us.”
Altoona players knew it was over pretty quickly.
“We looked a little gassed there at the end,” Price said.
All-around matches were turned in by Leah Henderson, who had 10 kills, 18 digs and 21 assists, and Taylor Kuruzovich with 11 kills, 24 assists and a pair of aces. Laura Hildebrand picked up 17 digs and Keira Scharf posted two blocks.
Clawson also had 27 digs and Maddie Benton had 33 assists and two aces for the Lady Spikers (11-4).
It all delivered a sixth straight title, and a fifth for Alli Henderson, who was a part of wins as a manager before delivering her rocket kills.
“We really just rallied together in that last set,” Henderson said. “We wanted this win so bad.”