MORRISDALE - After winning a PIAA Class A girls volleyball state title last year, Northern Cambria wasn't supposed to be this good.
The Lady Colts, who have won six straight District 6 titles, had lost all-state players Janae Dunchack, Breanna Kochinsky, Ariel Rocco and Jess Rocco to graduation, so this was going to be a rebuilding year.
Well, Northern Cambria is 16-3 and punched its ticket to another district title game with a 25-14, 25-17, 27-25 win over Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in the semifinals Thursday night at West Branch High School.
"It's amazing," senior Becky Krumenacker, who stepped into the libero spot this year. "A lot of people didn't think we could compete like the team last year, so it's an amazing feeling to get this far. We knew we had a lot of potential, but we didn't know how far we'd go."
"I'm pretty proud of this group of kids," NC coach Mike Hogan said, "because they had to get their bodies in condition to play at a good level of volleyball. They've come a long way as a group, from last year to this year. They worked so hard as a group, and I'm pretty happy with them."
"First of all, Northern Cambria is a great team," BG coach Bob Kasun said. "It's one of the best programs in the state. They have one of the best coaches in Mike Hogan. They play like a well-oiled machine."
The second-seeded Lady Colts will play top-seeded West Branch, a 3-1 winner over Homer-Center in the other semifinal, in a rematch of last year's district finals. They'll meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Altoona Fieldhouse.
Krumenacker, who was instrumental from the service line in the state title game, rang up 10 service points, while teammate Elizabeth Wolfe was a force at the net. NC held a 15-11 lead in the first game, but it scored eight straight points with Krumenacker serving.
"Serving deep was working," Krumenacker said, "because they were hesitant about whether it was in or out, but they did a pretty good job overall serve receiving."
"We always say that serving is our first offensive weapon," Kasun said. "Tonight, it was the first offensive weapon for Northern Cambria. They made us a one-dimensional team. They were hard serves to handle, and it really disrupted our offense."
Northern charged out to a 7-1 lead in the second game under the serving direction of junior Becky Britton, who reeled off three straight aces in that run. After the Lady Colts salted away the second game, the rowdy NC student section sang a pretty good rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame.
"Our school supports us," Hogan said, "where a lot of other schools don't have as much support as we do."
Two bright spots for sixth seeded BG, which upset third-seeded Mount Union in the quarterfinals, were the net play of 5-foot-7 outside hitter Jess Welteroth, who had 11 digs and seven kills, and 5-11 hitter Allie Bearer, who had eight kills.
"Jess Welteroth can be a dominating force," Kasun said. "I thought there were really good signs from her tonight with the way she was attacking the ball."
NC held an 18-13 lead in the last game, but BG fought back to take the lead, 19-18, on Danielle Nazaruk's serve. NC then ran off five straight points thanks to Wolfe, who had two kills and a point-scoring block in the run.
NC held a 24-20 lead when Welteroth took over as the server, and BG ran off five straight points as Welteroth slinged two aces. But the Lady Colts made a stand, and Miriah Butterworth's spike at 26-25 careened off of a BG blocker out of bounds, ending the match.
"I think we saw how dominating they can be in sets one and sets two," Kasun said. "I was really pleased with game three. We had an opportunity to quit. We battled and we played with heart."
BG finished with a 14-10 record, and Kasun said he was happy with how the year went.
"We got better as the year went on," Kasun said. "We had more highlights than lowlights."
The Lady Colts will now get ready to make their annual trip to the Fieldhouse, this one on Saturday.
"We're really excited about it," Krumenacker said. "We're ready to take it up a level on Saturday."
BISHOP GUILFOYLE CATHOLIC: J. Welteroth 8, Nazaruk 6, Potopa 3, McIntosh 3, Luther 3, Sherry 2, Yahner 1.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA: B. Krumenacker 10, Sedlock 8, M. Butterworth 7, Britton 6, Rescinito 5, E. Krumenacker 5, Stiles 4.
Records: Bishop Guilfoyle (14-10); Northern Cambria (16-3).