It was appropriate who got to take the final swing of the match — and where it was on the court.
Gabe Avillion went flying through the middle out of the back row — a “pipe” set — and took a huge rip at the ball for a kill.
It was the last of his match-high 21 kills on the night.
“What I love about hitting pipe, you have so much more freedom,” Avillion said. “It doesn’t have to be a perfect play. If someone can get the ball up and I can see it in time, I can typically feel pretty confident about what I can do with it.”
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The 6-foot-6 junior middle blocker had plenty of confidence in that play Tuesday night, and the State College setters had plenty of confidence to give him the ball there.
Nearly half his kills were there, and a solid defensive effort by the entire Little Lion volleyball team assisted the cause in a 29-27, 25-18, 25-20 Mid Penn Conference victory over Cumberland Valley.
The junior carried the load offensively. The rest of the Little Lions totaled 13 kills, led by Brandon Kuruzovich’s five.
Running Avillion through the middle, front row or back, or even on the outside, was the bulk of the offense.
“We recognize that he’s going to be a horse for us,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “But we’re also concerned about the number of swings he’s taking and what that will do to him over time. … One of the things we need to improve on is our distribution.”
Kimel is also worried it makes her offense predictable, with an opponent knowing more often than not where the ball will be going to set up the block.
On Tuesday, the junior still found the gaps even when the Eagles had two or three pairs of hands above the net.
While Cumberland Valley could not line up the block too often, State College did, finishing with a 10-5 advantage in stuffs. Walker Stone led the way with five rejections, while Kuruzovich added three.
“That’s awesome,” Avillion said. “That’s the best our blocking has ever been (this season). We have been working super hard on that, spending hours and hours at practice focusing on everybody on the team putting together a solid block every time.”
Eagles coach Terry Ranck thought the blocking disparity was a result of his young team having trouble with its ball-handling.
“It comes down to passing,” Ranck said. “You get predictable because you can’t pass. You get the ball on one side of the court and you can’t pass, there’s no secret to it.”
State College (2-2) also got 25 digs and two aces from Noah Christie, 17 assists from Kuruzovich and 13 from Stone, and Stone added 10 digs.
Cumberland Valley (1-2) was paced by Drew Liprando’s 13 kills and two aces, Blake Liprando’s eight kills and Cody Geis’ five kills and five blocks.
The first frame was a tight battle, with three set points for the Eagles and two others for the Little Lions before they finally cashed in with the third chance. They also took advantage of Cumberland Valley’s serving woes, with eight errors from behind the line in the first set alone.
“That’s just a lack of focus,” Ranck said. “That’s all under their control. They’re not out there hitting jump serves. We just have to get the ball on the court to give us a chance.”
The Little Lions then cleaned up their errors over the final two sets, and while the Eagles serving was on the court more often, the rest of their game was inconsistent and State College took advantage.
With the season still just a few weeks old, it’s hard to gauge how the teams compare, especially with both showing a lot of new starters, but it was still a needed conference win for the Little Lions, who host Central Dauphin on Tursday.
“We were worried the whole way through,” Avillion said. “We knew they could fight back. They’re a competitive team and they were making us work the whole way through.”