The State College boys volleyball team had been on quite the roll the last few weeks, but the Little Lions hit a wall on June 1.
State College was swept 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 by Bethel Park in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals at Forest Hills High School to end its season.
“We would have wanted to finish playing our best at the end of the season and I think we just fell a bit short,” coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “I believe that we are a state championship-level team, but at this level, against so many great teams, you simply can't have an off day and survive.”
The Black Hawks (18-1) earned a District 7 finals rematch with North Allegheny in the semifinals. It left the Little Lions one week short of playing in the state finals June 8 at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena – the finals are usually in Rec Hall, but a new floor is being laid in the building’s main gym.
State College (15-5) had been sharp late in the season, including an upset win against Northeastern in the District 3 semifinals and nearly knocking off Central York in the District 3 title match. Those two programs met in the other PIAA semifinal. The Little Lions also had been playing efficiently, hitting .264 on the season, but hit just .133 against Bethel Park.
“We were not as effective offensively as we've been most the season,” Kimel said. “Jon (Bristol) stepped up and had a nice match for us but we really needed a more balanced attack. Bethel Park was big and athletic, ultimately we were unable to curb their offense and generate our own.”
Bristol finished with 11 kills and an ace, Tom Leahey added six kills, Andy Vanden Heuvel also served up an ace and Ryan Kustaborder gave out 24 assists.
“I believe we all got into our heads and were not thinking about all of the options we actually had offensively,” said senior Tanner Kuruzovich, who had a pair of blocks. “We just needed to believe in ourselves and play our game.”
Jeremy Bullock had one block, Quinn Williams picked up four digs and Kustaborder had two as the Little Lion defense also struggled.
State College, which finished second in the Mid Penn Conference’s Commonwealth Division, was playing in its first PIAA tournament since 2015, its first quarterfinal since 2014, and was seeking a return to the state finals for the first time since the program’s 2010 PIAA title.
“The progress we made this season was exceptionally well coming from the fact we were underdogs going into postseason play,” said Kuruzovich, referring to the team surviving as District 3’s No. 6 seed. “I believe we surprised the teams we played. We just had to play our game and have fun. That’s when we had the most success.”
The team also collected some postseason hardware, with District 3 and 6 All-Star honors for Kuruzovich, Leahey and Williams, a Mid Penn All-Star selection for Kuruzovich, and a District 6 award for Kustaborder. Kuruzovich led the team this season with 306 kills, Bristol added 215 and a team-high 29 aces, Kustaborder provided 1,016 assists, Williams picked up 196 digs and Leahey posted 72 blocks.
“We are incredibly proud of this team and what they accomplished this season,” Kimel said. “We're looking forward to returning with an equally passionate and strong team next year.”