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State College, Penns Valley success, St. Joe’s progress highlight season’s first half

by on October 03, 2019 2:22 PM

As the calendar turns to October, the second half of the season begins for Centre County girls’ volleyball.

As expected, the Bald Eagle and State College programs are competitive with the best in the state, while others are finding their games — and maybe even delivering some surprises.

What have been among the highlights the coaches have seen?

For Penns Valley, a season removed from the best campaign in program history, the Lady Rams are still near the top of the Mountain League standings.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into the season, since we lost four all-star-caliber seniors,” Penns Valley coach Jayme Ishler said. “So going 5-2 in the first half of the Mountain League and being tied for second in the conference has been a pleasant surprise. We have a young team, but everyone has stepped up into roles so far this season.”

The progress made by the inexperienced players at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy also has coach Cori Donaghy pleased.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the performances of some of our players that are either new to the game, new at their positions, or both,” Donaghy said. “Another thing that is clicking for us this year, which I am pleasantly surprised, is the level of intelligence with which we are playing the game. We have a joke about using our big brains when we play — that it takes intelligence to run an effective offense, and the team has really taken it to heart.”

Other coaches are enjoying the progress in little areas, along with the team victories.

Sometimes, just getting better in one of the sport’s basics can bring a coach satisfaction.

“I have been encouraged most by our ability to pass serves,” P-O coach Dave Eckberg said. “We struggled with serve-receive last year and we needed to see growth in that area this year. So far, I am happy with our progress.”

The busy week saw plenty of action for all of the area’s teams, including the convergence of the state’s best teams at the State College Invitational, with 10 of the tournament’s 16 teams ranked in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches’ Association weekly poll.


The Lady Eagles, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, finished second in their morning pool, but a 2-4 record in their afternoon pool prevented them from advancing into the final bracket at the State College Invitational on Sept. 28.

They beat Shaler and Central Dauphin 2-0 each, and fell 2-0 to Allentown Central Catholic.

Later in the day, BEA beat Clarion 25-18, 25-21, but fell 25-23, 25-17 to North Allegheny and also lost 2-0 to Hempfield. The latter two teams met in the finals, won by North Allegheny.

Grace Hugar paced the offense with 22 kills on .417 hitting, followed by 20 kills and 29 digs for Lacee Barnhart, 18 kills each for Taylor Kilmer and Katelyn Smitchko, three blocks for Kilmer, 15 kills and five aces for Elita Brown, 63 assists for Madison Rockey, 42 assists and seven aces for Madison Eckley, and 82 digs for Lexi Skripek.

On Sept. 26, BEA swept away rival P-O 25-16, 25-12, 25-13, paced by nine kills each for Hugar and Brown, six kills for Smitchko, Kilmer’s two blocks, Rockey’s 32 assists and 17 digs, and Barnhart’s 18 digs.

The Lady Eagles (8-0, 7-0 Mountain League) made quick work of Central on Oct. 1, winning 25-6, 25-7, 25-20 behind a service game that delivered 16 aces and just six errors. Leading at the line were four aces each for Rockey and Barnhart, and three from Skripek. Smitchko put down eight kills on .700 hitting, Rockey gave out 17 assists and Eckley had seven digs.


The Lady Red Raiders won the first two sets but couldn’t close out the match in a long duel with Huntingdon, 25-27, 23-25, 25-13, 25-22, 15-10 on Sept. 26. Bellefonte delivered a solid service game with 15 aces, led by Phoebe Rowland’s seven and Chelsea Robson’s four.

Rowland also had six kills, 18 digs and 11 assists, Alexia Mishock had six kills and Robson posted five, Sarah Conner recorded 27 digs, Makenna Port had 25 digs, Mishock had 21 digs and Tayla Miller picked up 20 digs.

“We came out strong in the first two games,” coach Teri Kerr said. “Unfortunately, we fell short and lost momentum in the third game and just couldn’t get it back after that.”


The Lady Rams saw a milestone in a victory against Bellefonte on Sept. 24, when junior Jadyn Butler recorded her 602nd career dig, surpassing Emma Butler as the program’s all-time leader.

The Lady Rams swept Central 25-16, 25-21, 25-16 behind Grace Bressler’s eight kills, six kills each for Camme Upcraft and Kailen Winkelblech, four blocks for Upcraft, six digs for Jadyn Butler, two aces each for Anna Butler and Hailey Coursen, and 16 assists for Coursen.

Central Mountain prevailed 25-23, 25-20, 22-25, 25-23 on Sept. 30, as Upcraft had nine kills and four blocks, Anna Butler also had nine kills to go with four aces, Jadyn Butler picked up 24 digs and Coursen had 18 assists.

The Lady Rams (6-4, 6-2) swept Huntingdon 25-23, 25-11, 25-20 on Oct. 1, led by Maddie Sasserman’s nine kills, Upcraft’s eight kills and six blocks, Coursen’s 22 assists, and Jadyn Butler’s 30 digs.


In BEA’s 25-16, 25-13, 25-12 sweep of P-O, Kyleigh Kennedy had seven kills, Kalista Butler distributed 16 assists and Janey Johnson made 21 digs.

“Against BEA, I was pleased with our start, especially since it was at their gym,” Eckberg said. “I thought I might see more nerves from our players, but they seemed pretty relaxed. We just didn’t have the offensive power to keep up. They have a ton of experience and senior leadership that allows them to play with control and stay poised if they get out of system. We are trying to work toward those same goals with our younger players.”

P-O (11-5, 5-3) dropped a 26-24, 25-27, 25-19, 25-20 match to Tyrone on Oct. 1, with 14 kills and five blocks from Kennedy, 27 assists from Butler and 13 digs from Johnson.


The Wolfpack celebrated their Senior Night with a 25-19, 25-20, 23-25, 25,19 victory over Juniata, getting nine kills on 11 swings from senior Emma Mallison, four aces each for senior Maggie Mangene and junior Morgan Wolf, and nine digs for senior Ava Sparks.

“It was one of those nights where everything just clicked; the crowd, the atmosphere, the team chemistry — it all worked in our favor,” coach Cori Donaghy said. “We were able to reward the hard work of our seniors over the past four years with a win on their night.”

The Wolfpack (5-1) finished as the runner-up in the silver bracket of the Bellwood-Antis Invitational on Sept. 28, losing to Central in the finals. They rebounded from a slow start during pool play to advance to the elimination bracket, and knocked off Williamsburg to set up the meeting with the Scarlet Dragons.


The Lady Little Lions advanced to the semifinals of their own Invitational on Sept. 28 before falling in a challenging field. State College lost 25-20 to Hempfield (Lancaster) to end their day. PVCA Class 4A No. 1 North Allegheny then prevailed in the championship match.

Earlier, the Lady Little Lions split two sets with North Allegheny and scored 2-0 wins over Conneaut and Berlin Brothersvalley. In their second pool, State College split two frames with Class A No. 1 Northern Cambria and swept Baldwin and Allentown Central Catholic.

During the tournament, Kacy Sekunda posted 36 kills, nine aces, 17 digs and 49 assists. Kate Lachendro added 34 kills and 14 digs, Vanessa McGhee had 27 kills and 10 blocks, Ariana Angus recorded 24 digs and Sarah Neely gave out 41 assists.

On Sept. 26, State College scored a 25-9, 25-16, 25-11 sweep of Red Land as Sekunda recorded 11 kills, 14 assists and six digs; Lachendro had nine kills and seven aces and Neely posted seven assists.

The Lady Little Lions held off Chambersburg 25-13, 27-25, 20-25, 25-15 behind 14 kills apiece for Sekunda and Lachendro, 26 assists and four aces for Sekunda, nine kills and three blocks for McGhee, 14 assists for Neely and eight digs for Angus.


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