It goes without saying, in volleyball, taller is usually better.
With height comes more blocking and better hitting angles, and generally the bigger teams do better.
But sometimes teams can do more with less — so to speak.
Take the State College girls’ volleyball team.
The Lady Little Lions do not have a starter taller than 5-foot-10, and their top two hitters are both about 5-7, “If you stretch them out,” according to coach Chad Weight.
Yet here are the Lady Little Lions (21-0), playing in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals against Seneca Valley (23-1) at 2:30 p.m. at DuBois High School.
State College does just fine, even if the lineup is a little on the shorter side. Between club play and the regular season in tournaments and the Mid Penn Conference, the girls got to face plenty of teams taller than them, and held their own.
“They’ve learned at a higher level to play against that,” Weight said. “It’s what they’re accustomed to.”
Weight admits, defensively, it is an issue. His team gets a few blocks each match, but not enough to be altering an opponent’s plans. But on the offensive side, as long as they recognize the block, they do pretty well, sometimes even using it to their advantage by trying to deflect the ball off a blocker’s hands.
“From an offensive standpoint,” Weight said, “not that we really look forward to it, I’m not saying the kids do, but as a coach I’m OK with it because we tend to do a little bit better.”
The lack of size makes this an unusual season for the Lady Little Lions.
Over the past dozen or so years, there have been a number of athletes who have provided at least a little size to the lineup, like Kyla Irwin, Randi and Taylor Leath, Liz and Suzanne Horner, Christine Irwin, Emma Weakland, Kelsey Ream and Joi McKenzie, among them. All of them went on to become Division I or major small college athletes.
On Saturday, they will face another test in the Raiders, the District 7 champions who have been considered among the favorites to win a state title. The team is led by 6-foot-2 middle hitter Maria Alfano, who will play at Robert Morris next fall, though the team has several other strong hitters.
One of the tactics they figure to employ is delivering a tough serve, to try to diminish Alfano’s offensive work. State College wasn’t very aggressive with its serve in its five-set, first-round win over Hempfield, making just six service errors, but will have to serve a finer line.
“We need to make sure … to keep the ball away from her,” Weight said. “Maybe we serve a little bit different.”
Another problem will be trying not to serve to libero Isabella Seman, who is headed to Division I Elon College.
Weight’s team faced Seneca Valley a few weeks ago at a tournament in Clarion, dropping two tight sets to the Raiders during pool play and then falling again in the finals.
A lot more is on the line Saturday, but even if the Lady Little Lions are, by comparison, little, they know how to handle it.
“We’re not going to be hitting over the block,” Weight said. “But we get to see those types of teams more often than not, and we’ll be ready.”
Who: State College (21-0) vs. Seneca Valley (23-1)
What: PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: DuBois High School