There was no giving up for the State College girls’ volleyball team.
The Lady Little Lions just kept on fighting and eventually got on a roll.
“I don’t think that they stopped believing that they could compete with that team,” coach Chad Weight said Tuesday night after his team beat Hempfield Area in five sets in the PIAA Class AAAA first round at Central Cambria High School.
“It was insane,” Leah Henderson said after the 28-26, 20-25, 18-25, 25-16, 15-11 victory. “There was a lot of pressure on us there at the end and we just wanted to get done. We worked so hard for it.”
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State College (21-0) advances to the PIAA quarterfinals to meet Seneca Valley, a 3-0 winner over Exeter, on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
The offense was paced by 17 kills from Taylor Kuruzovich, 11 for Alli Henderson, 10 for Jess Irwin and nine from Leah Henderson, who also gave out 27 assists. Kuruzovich distributed 24 assists.
After dropping the third set, the Lady Little Lions had to dig extra deep to pull out the win. They even raced out to a fast 5-1 lead only to see the Spartans (15-3) rally to 7-7.
With a lead of 13-12, the Lady Little Lions took off on a 6-1 run to take control, buoyed by aces from Kuruzovich and Avery Cymbor and two Leah Henderson kills. They closed it with a 5-0 burst, capped by a Henderson ace and Kuruzovich kill and they sensed the match was theirs to take.
“Mental toughness,” Weight said. “It’s something that we’ve worked on all year, that we’ve talked about almost daily at practice and they did a great job of not letting the moment get bigger than what it really is.”
Two more Cymbor aces — she finished with four — helped them to a 6-1 advantage to start the fifth, and then they just had to hang on.
“Once we got the momentum going (in the fifth) it seemed like a piece of cake,” Henderson said. “Everything started piecing together and we played as a team.”
A Spartan error took care of the final point and brought on a celebration. Cymbor also notched 18 digs, Laura Hildebrand added 16 and Rachel Fedorko had two blocks to key the defense.
The team from Greensburg had to adjust to missing one of its top players, with Kiersten Schade going to the floor with a right knee injury late in the first set. The 6-foot-2 junior middle hitter, who is receiving a number of looks from Division I programs, had three kills and two blocks at that point.
“It changes our rotation completely,” Hempfield coach Jenny Feiertag said. “It happened to us in the middle of the season, she was out for a few games, but she’s a big threat.”
It took until the middle of the second set before the Spartans had things figured out.
“I thought they were still pretty good,” Weight said. “Once they did I thought they did a great job. They’re a really good team.”
Weight’s team did get outblocked 9-4, but managed to do well against the taller Spartans with or without Schade.
“It’s contradictory to what most people think,” Weight said. “It helps us to face bigger blocks, to be able to use it. I don’t really care how big teams are.”
Gaby Holmberg’s 17 kills, Claire Staines’ 12 kills and three blocks and Christie Redinger’s nine kills led Hempfield.