When Alli Henderson gets the ball set to her, and it’s not quite in the right spot, she sometimes will not hold back when she gives her opinion.
She knows, at least with one of the setters for the State College girls’ volleyball team, the harshest of words will be tolerated.
“I put less of a sugar-coat on it,” Alli said. “I know she takes it from me well. She’s a trooper.”
At the other end of the critiques is her sister, Leah, who understands the harshness.
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“It benefits the team a lot because she keeps me in line,” Leah said. “I can take it from her — obviously I’m used to it. It’s exciting on the court because we get to share it.”
The combination works.
The Hendersons, and the rest of the Lady Little Lions, are still playing volleyball the last week of the season.
State College (22-0) hits the court at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Cumberland Valley High School against Garnet Valley (18-2). The winner gets a spot in Saturday’s state championship match.
The Lady Little Lions are in the state semifinals for the first time since 2006, when the program made three straight appearances in the semis but never got to the final match.
These girls are looking to go a step further.
“It’s something that we’ve been wanting all season,” Alli said. “It’s so cool to finally be here.”
The Lady Little Lion program has had its share of sister combinations on the court, including the Horners and Leaths in recent seasons.
“Of all the siblings that have played together at the same time, it’s never been an issue as far as teaming up on others,” coach Chad Weight said. “They’re just as individually a part of the rest of the group as those who are not sisters.”
Having one as a setter, even a part-time setter, adds a different dimension. The team runs a 6-2 offense, with Leah Henderson and Taylor Kuruzovich sharing the setter duties along with their right-side hitter roles.
But Alli knows there are things she is a little more willing to say to Leah than to Taylor.
“They do that,” Weight said. “There’s a higher ‘comfortability’ factor. You can be very blunt with it, but all of the sisters have had that.”
They also have some of that unspoken communication that maybe others do not get to enjoy. At times, after a point has ended, Alli has turned to say something to Leah and the sophomore will cut off her senior sister before a word is uttered with an “I know” and an adjustment will be made by the next ball.
They have played together on the court for the last six years, beginning as teammates on the Fusion Club program out of Mechanicsburg, with Leah playing up an age level to be alongside her sister. Leah started out as an outside hitter, but moved to setter when she was in eighth grade, and got more work when she was a freshman at State College.
The hardest part, she says, is remembering where each teammate likes the ball — tight to the net or a few feet off, close to the antenna or well inside, high or fast — and always getting it there. But she’s known for years where one teammate like it.
“We have better chemistry than some of our teammates,” Alli said. “It’s kind of cool to connect in a way that you don’t with anybody else.”
Once this season ends, whether it is Tuesday or Saturday, so does their time together on the court. They will be on different club teams this spring, and Alli heads to Kutztown in the fall. She liked the campus and Bears coach John Gump, and is looking forward to the new challenge.
But the Henderson sisters are hoping they can be teammates just a little longer.
“Whatever game, I guess we end with is the last game we’ll ever play with each other,” Leah said. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”
Who: State College (22-0) vs. Garnet Valley (18-2)
What: PIAA Class AAAA semifinals
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Cumberland Valley High School, Mechanicsburg
Winner faces: Bishop Shanahan or Parkland in PIAA finals, Saturday