State College couldn’t make the third time a charm against North Allegheny.
For the third consecutive year, the Lady Little Lions faced the Lady Tigers in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA Volleyball Championships.
And for the third straight fall, State College’s season ended. The Lady Little Lions put up a stiff fight but fell to the WPIAL runner-up 25-19, 25-19, 24-26 and 25-20.
North Allegheny (14-7) will face District 3 champion Hempfield, a 3-0 winner over Pennridge in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
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Playing before a large crowd that included Penn State women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose, the two teams battled for nearly two hours.
The difference came as North Allegheny got two sustained runs in the middle of the first two sets and one late in the nip-and-tuck final set.
Neither coach was happy after the match, but North Allegheny’s Heidi Miller felt fortunate to survive.
“We’ve been getting better in the last week or two,” said Miller, whose team was 5-6 early in the season. “State College played a great game, but we did not play well. We kind of weathered the storm.”
Lady Little Lions coach Chad Weight also said his club could have played better, especially on serve. State College (18-3) gave up 14 points on service errors, which were key in the tight match.
“We played and fought hard,” Weight said. “At the end of the day, it was too many errors — too many service errors. We had to take some chances hitting the ball a little bit. In the early part of the match, we weren’t really getting after it.
“They’re a pretty good team, so you have to do everything really well. But in despite of all of that, I thought we could have had them.”
The match was dead even at 11-11 in the opening set when the Lady Tigers broke it open. A pair of blocks by Meg Morningstar, a 6-foot-2 middle who is committed to Notre Dame, fueled an 8-1 run.
State College got as close as 21-17, but could get no closer. Bree Blair’s spike closed out the set for North Allegheny.
The second set was almost a carbon copy of the first. The teams were tied at 11-11 before North Allegheny used an 8-2 run to take control. State College rallied to within 22-19, but after a Lady Tiger timeout, the Lady Little Lions had three consecutive errors to drop the set.
“State College has three or four big strong hitters and when you’re serving them tough it takes some of their hitters out of their offense,” Miller said. “They got stuck a little bit at times. We served tough at the right times.”
State College didn’t roll over. Led by Janae Moran and Sydney McNulty, the Lady Little Lions came out smoking in the third set. They raced to a 14-7 lead before North Allegheny began working its way back into the set. The Lady Tigers actually took the lead at 24-23, but Makenzie Sullivan’s kill on match point squared it and the Lady Little Lions forced errors on the next two points.
The final set was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than two points until the latter stages. The Lady Little Lions took a 20-19 lead on Kyla Irwin’s kill, but it was all North Allegheny from there. Annika Chang’s spike and a block closed the match.
“I felt like we did enough at the right times to block them and we did serve tough,” Miller said. “I feel good to get out of here with a win tonight.”
Weight felt his team handled the much taller Lady Tigers well. North Allegheny’s block featured Morningstar and 6-foot-4 Lauren Swartz.
“We do a lot better with bigger teams because we use their blocks,” he said. “Unfortunately at times tonight, we didn’t use them correctly.”
And while State College’s serving forced several overpasses, Weight wishes more would have found the court instead of sailing long or into the net.
“That’s the double-edge sword of serving tough — you’re going to make some errors,” Weight said. “But you’re going to get some freebies, too. Unfortunately, there were too many errors.”
Moran and McNulty led State College with 13 and 11 kills, respectively. Irwin had seven blocks and McNulty had four aces. Tara Neidigh had 15 digs, while Taylor Kuruzovich and Moran had 18 and 12 assists, respectively.
The match was the final one for State College seniors Rosie Sowers, Neidigh, Jill Savage, Abigail Horner, Sullivan, Moran and McNulty.
“It was a great group of kids,” Weight said. “They worked hard. They did better than a lot of people though they would. … Nobody expected us to do much. But I think we could of gotten out of here with a win. We weren’t far off.”