Early in the third set, with the State College boys’ volleyball team already holding a comfortable lead, a ball rose up above the net and two Little Lions battled for the chance to drill the ball into the floor.
It was an overpass from Altoona digging up a previous swing by State College, with Andrew Groves getting his hand on the ball before teammate Peyton Stark.
It was that kind of night for the Little Lions, with so many choices and opportunities that went their way.
The end result was a 25-18, 25-12, 25-14 sweep of the Mountain Lions in the District 6 Class AAA Championship match Tuesday night at Tyrone Middle School.
“I don’t think winning districts ever gets old,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “It’s a challenge every year.”
The sixth straight district title sends State College (8-6) to a PIAA play-in match Friday night against the winner of McDowell and DuBois, which meet in another sub-regional contest Wednesday.
The Little Lions rode the offense of Andrew Groves and Deniz Demirci, who knocked down 11 kills each, with Clark Handel adding eight. Parker Thompson posted 16 digs and Cameron Crow added nine digs. Noah Christie gave out 18 assists and Groves contributed 13 assists.
However, the biggest difference-makers came from the service line.
State College held an 8-1 advantage in aces, with more serves dug by the Mountain Lions (13-2) well off the net and limiting the offense.
“Our serve-receive fell apart,” Altoona coach John Saboe said. “They were very aggressive at the service line, and once our serve-receive didn’t pass as well as expected, it made it tough to be aggressive on our service line. It handcuffed us, put us in very difficult situations that we had trouble playing out of.”
Christie led with five of those aces, including three during a run of six straight service points in the first set to take command of that frame.
“Our targets moved a little bit,” Kimel said. “But once we identified a struggling passer, we tried to exploit that every single time.”
The serving disparity helped the Little Lions dictate the offense as well, with a huge 38-13 advantage in kills.
“Usually through serving we can run our offense,” Demirci said. “It’s pretty strong.”
Both the serving and offense also helped set up plenty of big point runs. In addition to the first-set burst on Christie’s serve, the Little Lions had an 11-3 run in the second set, then closed that frame with a 6-1 burst, and ran off the final eight points of the third to lock up the win.
That last run was highlights by the only terminal blocks State College recorded in the match on four consecutive points. Stark started the run by rejecting an Altoona tip, then Tyler Snyder stuffed the next two attempts before the pair teamed up to block a Brett Koelle swing.
“That felt really good,” Demirci said. “The win was in our hands at that point.”
Koelle and Josh Huber each had four kills to lead the Mountain Lions, with Huber also racking up four blocks.
Despite starting the season with a 2-5 record, the Little Lions are on a roll and ready for the next step in the postseason.
They had the right recipe for a win Tuesday.
“We were very fortunate to win the serving and serve-receive game,” Kimel said. “Which is the framework for the entire match. If you win that serving, serve-receive game, you just have a very strong advantage.”