Consistency and momentum are major players in the sport of volleyball.
When those components are on the side of the State College boys’ volleyball team, it can be a pretty dangerous team.
But when those are against the Little Lions, it can be a rough night.
“We’re on the edge of being really, really good,” junior outside hitter Joe Leahey said. “It’s just a couple errors that we make, and then we feel down on ourselves and we’re young so ... we get on runs, (we’re) losing points, and we feel worse, and we lose more points.”
It all was on full display Thursday night in the North Gym, with State College winning the first two sets and appearing in control, only to stumble as the team started to pile up the errors against Central Dauphin East.
The Panthers prevailed 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-17, 15-4 in the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division contest.
“That’s tough, but it happens sometimes,” Leahey said of seeing the two-set lead disappear. “You just have to walk it off.”
Just two weeks into the season for a lineup that depends heavily on five sophomores, it can be chalked up to a learning experience.
“A lot of our challenges top to bottom are rooted in (playing) a lot of inexperienced players,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “When those (momentum) shifts occur and you have a seasoned team, they understand how to slow the game down a little bit, how to stretch the pace. This young team, they want to chase the game.”
Errors were a major issue. The Little Lions racked up 45 hitting errors, including 29 over those final three sets, and had 58 total errors. That means more than two sets worth of points for the Panthers were given away by the Little Lions (1-4).
Contributing to those numbers, however, was an impressive block from CD East. The Panthers dominated with 17 stuffs to five for State College.
“They had a lot of big guys that could swing hard and block,” Leahey said. “We couldn’t get around it.”
CD East was paced by Angelo Fairfax’s 16 kills and four blocks, Davon Baldwin’s 10 kills and five blocks and Lavon Baldwin’s nine kills and five blocks.
It’s either we’re really, really hot or really cold. We’ve got to find that middle ground or hot.
State College junior Joe Leahey
The Little Lions were led by 10 kills and two aces from Tanner Kuruzovich, nine kills from Nate Reinart, eight kills for Leahey and five kills apiece for Joe McCracken and Jeremy Bullock.
“On paper, we should be one of the teams in our league that has the greatest threat that our attack could come from anywhere,” Kimel said of her balanced offense. “The problem is together we’re consistently mediocre.”
Ryan Kustaborder delivered 19 assists and two aces, with 16 assists from Patrick McNutt, three blocks for Bullock and 21 digs from Quinn Williams.
Down in a two-set hole, the Panthers took control of the third and fourth sets with point runs of 11-2 and 9-2, respectively, near the midpoint of both frames.
“We got in there, and the boys realized State College is a very young team,” Panthers assistant coach Jamie Creason said of seizing momentum after dropping the opening sets. “I just told them, ‘You’re the better team. You need to get in there and play like you know how to play and stay focused.’”
The Little Lions’ youth was quiet evident over the final three sets as passes sprayed in every direction and the team struggled to keep pace with the Panthers.
“These are challenges, but we’re really pushing them that these aren’t excuses,” Kimel said. “That’s the hand that we have, so we have to figure out what it is that we can do to get the best out of them.”
CD East capped the night by taking eight of the match’s final nine points in the deciding fifth set.
The inconsistency and wild swings of momentum were tough to handle, but with nearly two months left in the season, the Little Lions are optimistic.
“It’s either we’re really, really hot or really cold,” Leahey said. “We’ve got to find that middle ground or hot.”