High School Sports

State College girls’ volleyball headed to state semifinals

State College’s Taylor Kuruzovich hits the ball over a Seneca Valley defender during the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals Saturday at DuBois High School. State College won in four sets.
State College’s Taylor Kuruzovich hits the ball over a Seneca Valley defender during the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals Saturday at DuBois High School. State College won in four sets. adrey@centredaily.com

The hitters get all the glory when they put down the big kills.

But if you want to control a volleyball match, be good at serving.

State College gave a clinic on that Saturday afternoon at DuBois Area High School in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals.

Behind an astounding 18 aces, including eight from senior Taylor Kuruzovich, the Lady Little Lions knocked off Seneca Valley 25-19, 25-12, 17-25, 25-22.

“It’s amazing,” Kuruzovich said. “I didn’t know what it would be like coming into this match, but I did have faith in us. But I wasn’t expecting that. It was awesome.”

State College (22-0) advances to the PIAA semifinals for the first time since 2005, set to face Garnet Valley.

“To be in the final four is amazing,” said outside hitter Alli Henderson, who put down a dozen kills to pace the offense. “We’ve dreamt of this all season, and it’s great to finally be here and to have a chance at that state championship.”

Kuruzovich also posted 10 kills, 21 assists and 11 digs. Jess Irwin had nine kills, Leah Henderson gave out 16 assists, Laura Hildebrand picked up 21 digs and Avery Cymbor added 11 digs.

Seneca Valley (23-2), the District 7 champion, was led by 10 kills each for Maria Alfano and Emily Devlin and nine from Tatum Poirier.

Alfano and Anna DeGraff led the defense with two blocks apiece.

State College coach Chad Weight said before the match the service game was going to be a key to the win, but even he was stunned by the quality his team got from the service line. Even with an aggressive game from the line, which didn’t get any extra attention than normal this past week in practice, the team missed just 10 serves.

“It’s what we have to do, so we work on it all the time,” Weight said.

The tone for the match was set in the first two points. Kuruzovich put down a kill to start it, then delivered an ace with her first serve.

Her opening to the second set was even better — three straight aces.

“I think I can say I was feeling pretty confident,” Kuruzovich understated with a big grin. “I did miss a few, but I was trying to serve tough. I knew if we got them off with our serves, then we had it.”

State College didn’t trail for a single point over the first two sets thanks to that aggressive serving. Even when they weren’t acing the Raiders, the Seneca Valley passing was frequently off the net, making them more predictable.

“We served fabulously today,” Alli Henderson said. “Our servers were so good at hitting their spots, and that was crucial with keeping them out of system, keeping their big hitters off the net.”

The predictability assisted the smaller Lady Little Lions get a line on the Raiders’ big hitters. State College only managed three blocks, but was able to funnel the huge swings right to the back row for one dig after another.

“Our defense today was awesome,” said Kuruzovich, one of six Lady Little Lions with at least one ace. “Hopefully that continues into the next match.”

“They have a huge front line,” Henderson said. “Without the passes there, that can be frustrating. I think we definitely did a good job of that.”

It also led to Seneca Valley maybe trying to do too much. The team racked up 18 hitting errors and 38 total errors.

“We made a lot of errors,” Raiders coach Karen Martini said. “We gave them a lot of points, a lot more than we gave ourselves, but make no mistake — they served us off the court.”

The only deviation to the night’s plan came in the third set. State College managed just one ace, while Seneca Valley had some huge swings to deny the sweep and steal back some of the momentum.

The fourth set was a tight one, with 18 ties and 11 lead changes, with a two-point lead only once by either team until State College finally took control at the end. A Jess Irwin gave the Lady Little Lions the lead for good at 20-19. A Cymbor ace and Alli Henderson kill — she had seven kills in the fourth set alone — followed to stretch the margin.

A little later, a Henderson kill brought match point, and when one final Raider swing sailed well beyond the end line, a berth in the state semifinals was in the Lady Little Lions’ plans for next week.

“We’re all in the mentality of, ‘We’ve got this. We can. This could be us,’ ” Kuruzovich said. “It feels amazing. Going into the season I didn’t expect anything like this.”

It also gave a nice birthday present to Weight, who is guiding the program to the final week of the season for the first time since he took over the program.

“These kids play with a ton of grit, toughness and determination,” Weight said. “They don’t want to lose.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @gordoncdt