EBENSBURG — With her team’s season and her high school volleyball career in jeopardy, State College setter/opposite Suzanne Horner got serious.
The senior sparked the Lady Little Lions in the final two sets as they rallied to edge Fox Chapel 25-17, 20-25, 24-26, 25-12 and 15-11 in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA Volleyball Championships on Tuesday. State College advances to the quarterfinals where the Lady Little Lions will face North Allegheny, a 25-21, 25-14, 20-25, 25-18 winner over McDowell.
Horner led State College with 24 assists, 22 digs and three aces and was second with 17 kills.
“I think Suzanne is phenomenal,” said State College coach Chad Weight. “I think she willed us to win tonight.”
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After the teams split the first two sets, the Lady Little Lions lost a suspense-filled third set. State College rallied from a 14-9 deficit and pulled even at 23-23 on Sydney McNulty’s block, but the Foxes regrouped to close out the set by winning three of the final four points.
Fox Chapel seemingly had the momentum, but State College took control early in the fourth set. Behind the serve of Horner, the Lady Lions won the set’s first six points and cruised to a 25-12 win to force a final set.
“Volleyball is a huge game of momentum,” Weight said. “I think at the beginning (of the fourth) we took advantage of probably our best server back there.”
Horner said that being put on the brink of elimination was a huge motivator.
“When were in the huddle we all just (realized) that if we lost another set we were out,” Horner said. “And we didn’t want that ... so we just came out and played a lot harder.”
State College didn’t let up in the deciding set. They again won the first six points, punctuated by Kyla Irwin’s two-handed kill. The freshman led with five blocks and routinely used her size and athleticism to blast winners from high above the net.
“We’ve seen it coming,” Weight said of his Irwin’s stellar play. “And we know we have a good player on our hands.”
Fox Chapel rallied to within 13-11, but Horner shut the door with a scoring shot down the right sideline that caromed off a Fox defender.
Junior Christine Irwin, who led the team with 19 kills, wasn’t surprised her team was able to pull out the victory. “We had to find the fight within all of us,” Irwin said. “I knew we all wanted it really bad and we’ve been in those situations all year.”
Horner, who will attend Mississippi State on a volleyball scholarship, is hoping for a run at the PIAA finals.
“It’d be really special,” Horner said. “A team hasn’t gone to the finals in awhile at State High. That’s something I’ve always dreamed of and with this group of girls I really think we can if we have lots of fight in us.”