The game starts with serving, and State College did it quite well Thursday night.
The Lady Little Lions’ work from behind the line ended up producing at District 6 title.
With eight aces to go with a pile of serves that were almost as good as aces, State College swept past Altoona 25-18, 25-18, 25-13 at Tyrone Middle School to defend its district Class AAA crown.
“Serving is our strong point so we definitely wanted to serve them tough,” said senior setter Suzanne Horner, who had three of those aces. “If we served the right people we knew we could get them out of system and then they wouldn’t be able to run too much with their offense.”
While the Lady Mountain Lions were rendered practically one-dimensional by that serving, the Lady Little Lions (18-2) could do essentially whatever they wanted to return to the PIAA Tournament. They will face the runner-up from District 7 on Tuesday night at a site and time to be announced.
Jackie Horner and Janae Moran added two aces to that total, but the effectiveness of the serving could be measured not just by the aces but also with Altoona’s offensive production. The Mountain Lions totaled a modest 24 kills, but 14 came from Hannah Moore, five from Brianna Luciano, the other left-side hitter, and no one else had more than one.
“Their serving really put us out of system,” Altoona coach Karan Price said. “At that point we have to go to the outside or back row, and of course Hannah’s been our go-to player during the year and when the going gets tough you go to that person.”
It was the game plan Lady Little Lions coach Chad Weight had set up before the match, and it helped his defense dig up plenty of Moore’s swings and as the match wore on she began to send the ball out of bounds more frequently.
“I got angry a couple times when we were (serving) the wrong people,” Weight said. “Serving is always part of our game plan. It makes the game much easier on our side of the net.”
Offensively, State College had a variety of options both from the antennas and in the middle — which also kept the Mountain Lions on their heels.
Outside hitter Christine Irwin led with 12 kills, while middle blocker Kyla Irwin added 11 kills.
“(It’s) a huge help,” Weight said of getting more offensive production from Irwin in the middle. “The thing that allows us to get that option, our passing is really good right now. We passed the ball really well.”
Kyla Irwin, a freshman, has been building up her production as the season has worn on and having a 6-foot-1 option makes the Lady Little Lions a bigger threat for the state tournament.
“I was hoping to be more of an option,” Irwin said. “But I’m just so much happier that I am an option right now.”
“I knew it was going to take some time to get the tempo down,” Weight said. “(It’s) a lot faster here at this level, but being the athlete she is I was confident she would get there.”
The freshman took fewer than 20 swings to get to her total, and had only two errors — a tip into the net and one terminally blocked — to get to her total.
“Good things are going to happen sooner or later once you get the experience and start to learn the system,” Price said. “She certainly has done that.”
Suzanne Horner also had 18 assists, eight digs and seven kills while Jackie Horner gave out nine assists and Sydney McNulty posted four blocks.
Shannon Albright had 18 digs for Altoona (11-5) and Natalie Beisecker had five blocks.
After three straight Mountain Lion wins in the district final, State College has picked up two straight, and now look for more success in a new-and-improved state tournament that no longer features a long day of quarterfinal pool play. The roster may have changed quite a bit from last season, with two Division I-bound athletes out with major injuries, but the Lady Little Lions are still thinking big.
“We have a real young team,” Suzanne Horner said. “It’s just exciting that we can go out and win districts and have the potential to go far in the state tournament.”
“Last year was ‘Thank God, finally,’” Weight said. “We’ve put some pieces together and kids have played really hard, it’s different. We thought we should have won last year but it was still unsureness because it just wasn’t happening. But I’m very proud of this group of a lot of very young kids that have stepped in and did the job.”