The emotions were flowing on the court and in the bleachers Thursday night.
The student sections for both schools were heavily involved — some on both sides had to be admonished for being too enthusiastic — and there was plenty on the line.
A volleyball battle brings out the best for both Bald Eagle Area and Philipsburg-Osceola.
“This is our rivalry in the Mountain League,” BEA coach Larry Campbell said. “... We’re two teams competing for the league title year-in, year-out. It’s always a good match no matter when we play them.”
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The match is even more enjoyable for the Lady Eagles (12-1, 11-0 Mountain League) when they get to clinch the league title at the expense of their rivals from up the Allegheny Front.
Behind a balanced offensive attack, BEA held off P-O 25-19, 19-25, 25-15, 25-16, clinching the Mountain League title. The Lady Mounties, Central and Huntingdon are tied for second place in the standings and all lost Thursday.
“Senior year,” said middle hitter Madison Ripka, “be nice to have the Mountain League title again.”
Ripka was a key to the win both offensively and defensively.
In the Lady Eagles’ season opener against Dallastown, the team’s middle hitter position accounted for a total of three kills. Thursday night, Ripka posted seven kills and four blocks, and Madison McCauley had two kills and three blocks.
“They’ve been beating it into our heads to get up on time,” Ripka said. “Then just swing as hard as you can.”
Getting a threat out of the middle makes it that much easier for the rest of the Lady Eagles to get good swings.
“That makes a huge difference,” Campbell said. “That puts pressure on their defense. Now they have to address our middles, so our kids on the pins are getting one-on-one (blocking) and that makes them exponentially better.”
BEA saw freshman Grace Hugar post a match-high 10 kills, while Vee Skripek added six kills and five aces. Regan Dyke picked up 25 digs with 14 for Peetie Ballock. Madison Rockey and Madi Hahn each gave out 16 assists and Hahn added three aces.
Aces were a big reason the Lady Mounties (18-5, 7-4) stayed in the match. They racked up a total of 14, led by six from Hannah Thompson and four from Mackenzie Welker.
“We rely on that to put pressure on the other team,” coach Dave Eckberg said. “We took some chances tonight and it paid off at times. We just needed to play cleaner at times with communication and hitting errors.”
The trouble for the Lady Eagles, who had a dozen aces of their own, on serve-receive is a concern for Campbell with the District 6 playoffs looming.
“I’d like to see us do a better job with serve-reception,” Campbell said. “When we face a really tough serving team, like tonight, we had a lot of trouble.”
Eight kills apiece for Jadyn Eckberg and Morgan Thompson paced P-O, while Annie Kost distributed 21 assists and Sadie Granville was busy with 31 digs.
The Lady Mounties, like most teams this fall, had trouble handling the Lady Eagles’ variety of hitters and size. Five different hitters had at least two kills, and they also held an 8-1 advantage in blocks.
“I was seeing the ball pretty good tonight,” Ripka said. “Just following the main hitters that they have, just went up when they hit.”
The Lady Mounties did their best to use the BEA blockers, hitting the ball off their hands, and tried to stay off the net so they had hitting options. The strategy worked on some points better than others.
“No matter what you do,” Dave Eckberg said, “there are just some situations you’re not going to win that battle. We just try to control the ball enough that we don’t put ourselves in those positions.”
With a week left in the regular season before the postseason begins, the Lady Eagles like what they see.
“We’re really trying to develop,” Campbell said. “If you look at us the beginning of the year and now, it’s exponentially different because we’re getting production from other kids.”