Despite strong performances from senior Gabe Avillion and super-sub Quinn Williams, State College fell 3-0 (25-14, 25-22, 25-16) to Altoona on Thursday night in the Class AAA District 6 Championships.
“Altoona's team is excellent,” State College coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “They're a really strong team. They have reach -- we're smaller on the outside so blocking was a challenge for us there.”
Avillion led the Little Lions (5-8) with 12 kills and two blocks. Walker Stone recorded 13 assists, four digs and three kills, while Noah Christie added 10 digs and an ace.
Williams, who came on after a dominant first game by Altoona, provided some recourse for the Little Lions in games two and three. The fleet-footed freshman subbed in for outside hitter Scott Tilliotson, who was returning from an injury. Kimel subbed in Tanner Leahey minutes later and the effect was immediate: State College won the next two points to bring the second game to 23-22, prompting Altoona coach John Saboe to take a timeout.
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“I told them what I've told them all season,” Saboe said. “Play hard and get us one touch on defense.”
If the first game was checkers, the second and third games developed into a game of chess, with both coaches tinkering with substitutions and strategy. After Saboe's timeout, Altoona took the next two points to capture the second game.
“Getting a big win in the first game kind of set up our confidence,” Saboe said. “It kept us in the rhythm we wanted to establish throughout the game.”
In the third, State College held an early lead off a few kills from Avillion and Stone. But Altoona's Phil Swartz continued his strong performance, finding the holes in the Little Lions' defense.
Williams came up with a key dig at 18-12 in the third, leading to a kill by Avillion to put the Little Lions within five.
“(Williams) has been a great surprise for us this season,” Kimel said. “We think he's going to be insanely good.”
But Altoona took seven of the next 10 points to seal the match.
“What we tried to do was encourage them not to just play the game, but to go out and play with purpose” Kimel said. "I think that's what you saw shifting between games one, two and three.
“Our team, they're frustrated right now, but they're super young. It's heartbreaking for the seniors, but they've had an excellent run with us for many years.”