State College has played in the district championship match more than just about anyone can count, and won the title each of the last three seasons.
The last time Hollidaysburg has been in the district final, let alone actually won it, no one on the Golden Tigers’ team had even been born.
The Lady Little Lions used their experience — and an ample supply of skill — to quickly dispatch Hollidaysburg in Wednesday night’s District 6 Class AAA championship match at Tyrone Middle School.
Behind a 13-kill effort from Taylor Leath and a six-ace, five-block night from Kyla Irwin, State College is headed back to the PIAA tournament with the 25-8, 25-5, 25-16 domination.
The Lady Little Lions (13-1) will face the champion from District 7 in the first round of the state tournament Tuesday at a site and time to be announced. North Allegheny, Norwin, Bethel Park and Shaler remain in the WPIAL tournament. North Allegheny beat State College in last year’s quarterfinals.
If the opponent does turn out to be the Tigers, it will be quite the first-round match, with North Allegheny and the Lady Little Lions fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AAA rankings.
It didn’t take long for State College to assert its dominance against Hollidaysburg. Irwin, the third server of the match, rolled off six straight points, with four of them aces.
“I was feeling great,” Irwin said of the run that built an 8-2 lead. “I was really excited. It’s just momentum. It just kept me going.”
Aces were present all night — the Lady Little Lions finished with 16 of them — and even when they weren’t unloading service winners, they had the Golden Tigers (10-7) off balance with a variety of hard and float serves.
“We were all told to serve to zones and we all hit our zones pretty well,” Irwin said. “It definitely put them under pressure.”
The State College coaches had watched Hollidaysburg’s first-round match against Altoona on Monday, and coach Chad Weigth had an inkling then that his team could control the match from the service line.
“We wanted to see what they could do with our serve,” Weight said. “That kind of made us, as coaches, feel a little bit better about — once the game got going it came to fruition that that’s what we thought was going to happen.”
The serve game brought almost immediate frustration to the Golden Tigers.
“That was our biggest struggle,” coach Ted Bloom said. “We could not run an offense without passing. Tonight passing was a huge, huge issue.”
The Lady Little Lions also knew they had the superior talent and match conditioning.
In addition to the Mid Penn Conference, the Lady Little Lions played several tournaments against the state’s top teams. Plus, their roster includes Leath, who has a scholarship waiting for her at No. 12 North Carolina; Kyla Irwin, who is already getting attention from Divison I basketball programs as a sophomore; and Christine Irwin, who also has college-level ability.
Hollidaysburg, which had not been in the district final since the early 1990s and had not won a title since 1989, played only three full matches against Class AAA programs all season, including Monday’s match against Altoona.
“We practiced yesterday, really focusing on some bigger hitters hitting at them,” Bloom said. “Me and some other people. The caliber of players State College has — they have a great program.”
“I wasn’t sure, but I don’t think that they had seen anybody quite like us,” Weight said. “The tempo of the offense and some bigger kids, I don’t think they had seen that yet this year.”
Christine Irwin finished with eight kills, five digs and four aces, Janae Moran posted 22 assists and five digs, Leath also had five digs and Abbey Harrington led with six digs.
Elizabeth Yacobucci’s three kills and five digs led Hollidaysburg, and Rachel Sibold had six digs.
But the disparity was unmistakable: State College led in kills 30-5, in blocks 8-2 and in aces 16-3.
“We really didn’t know what t expect, because we really hadn’t played them before,” Kyla Irwin said. “We just had to come out, play hard and get them from the beginning.”
Now, after that kind of domination, the Lady Little Lions will have to kick their level up several notches for their next match
“It’s the same as when we played in the Mid Penn,” Weight said. “It’s kind of like they played to the level of the competition. You hate that as a coach, but that’s kind of the way it goes.”