After a difficult third set, John Weakland had a message for his State College teammates.
“I brought every in,” the senior outside hitter said, “and said, ‘We’re going to win this fourth set and then we’re going to take it five and dominate.”
Weakland was prophetic, helping his team to a much-needed Mid Penn Conference boys’ volleyball win Thursday night.
“We had that attitude going into the fourth set like we’re going to win it and we did,” said Weakland, who notched a team-high 25 kills to go with four blocks and a pair of aces in a five-set victory over Cumberland Valley.
Tyler Snyder added 15 kills and 17 digs in the 25-23, 22-25, 19-25, 30-28, 15-12 marathon, leveling the two teams in second place in the conference’s Commonwealth division behind undefeated leader Central Dauphin.
“This is huge for us,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “You can tell these guys they have potential until you’re blue in the face, but until they realize it, you’re really not going to get to that tipping point. I think this was a big deal for them. They’ve kind of known, and they can see all the components ... we’ve fallen short a half-dozen times until this point. It was nice to get over that hump.”
Kimel’s team plays Central Dauphin on Tuesday, and the Eagles and Rams will tangle again later this season, so there is still hope State College can reach the top of the standings. Earlier this week, Weakland told his teammates he wanted to win the Mid Penn as well.
“That’s a really discreet, specific goal for us to have that forced us to say, ‘The only way to do that is to win (Thursday),” Kimel said. “That’s a character builder.”
Noah Christie’s 33 digs and Gabe Avillion added three blocks for State College (8-2).
“We fought hard,” said setter Brandon Kuruzovich, who gave out 54 assists. “I felt we really deserved the win we got It was tough but we did it.”
The Little Lions had to overcome an incredible performance from 6-foot-4 outside hitter Michael Fisher, who is headed to No. 5 Pepperdine and rocked in a career high 36 kills.
“I didn’t realize he had that many,” coach Terry Ranck said of the 36-kill total. “No wonder he came to me and said he was tired in the middle of Game 4. ... There’s no secret, when we need a side out, he’s probably going to get the ball if he’s available.”
Fisher and Weakland, a 6-4 outside hitter heading to Shippensburg to play quarterback, had quite the duel at times. Each had blocks on the other, each bounced huge swings off the other’s hands and each had big runs of swings at the net.
“I was trying to keep the ball away from (Fisher),” Kuruzovich said. “He has such a good block, but I felt like I distributed it pretty well.”
Kimel gave a lot of credit to Kuruzovich for the win. He fed the ball a lot to his top hitter, but plenty of others were involved.
“He just did a great job,” Kimel said. “Early in the season he would have just John the whole time. We didn’t win this game because John got set the whole time, we won because when they were overloading the block on John, we could go to Aaron and he put the ball down. We could go to Tyler. We could go to Peyton (Stark).”
After splitting the first two very tight sets, the Eagles controlled the third frame from end to end, at one point leading 20-11, and it figured they would cruise from there. But the Little Lions whittled into that margin late in the set, and then Weakland delivered his message.
By the end of the fourth, Cumberland Valley fought off four set points, and State College held off one match point, before Weakland put down a kill, then teamed with Avillion to stuff a huge swing from Fisher to force the fifth frame.
“It was tough at times but you live on those emotions,” Weakland said. “You live on the highs and you’ve got to forget about the lows. That’s what I tried to do — every time we missed a point, forget about it, move on and live on those highs.”
The Little Lions raced to a 10-5 lead to start the shortened fifth, saw the Eagles rally to within 11-10, then finally put the match away, sealed by another block from Weakland and Stark on Drew Loprendo, who finished with 11 kills.
“We had our opportunities there in Game 4,” Ranck said. “Both teams played an offense at a very high level. I just thought it came down to just a couple plays once again. When you have evenly matched teams like this, that just seems to be what usually does it.”