Three area teams, all district champions, will enter four-team pool play competition at various sites throughout the state as the first round of the PIAA volleyball tournament unfolds Saturday.
District 6-AAA titlist Altoona will compete at Carlisle High School, while District 6-AA champ Penn Cambria will play at North Hills High School near Pittsburgh. In the first round of the PIAA Class A tournament at Clarion High School, defending state champion and this year's 6-A kingpin, Northern Cambria, will begin its bid to repeat.
All four teams in each pool play each other in this weekend's opening-round action, and the top two finishers in each pool will advance to next weekend's quarterfinal rounds, which will all be held at Central York High School.
Mirror file photo
Jess Delic leads Penn?Cambria into the PIAA?Class AA playoffs on?Saturday afternoon at North Hills High School, outside of Pittsburgh.
Next weekend's quarterfinals will be held next Friday, with the semfinals and championship matches to follow next Saturday, Nov. 20.
Northern Cambria coach Mike Hogan has three returning senior starters - setter Emily Stiles, right side hitter Ashley Kirsch, and middle hitter Shawna Serafin - from last season's state championship team.
Hogan said the contributions of these veteran players have been instrumental in Northern Cambria winning the district championship and posting a 17-3 record this season. But equally vital, Hogan maintains, has been the development of his younger and less experienced players.
"One of the things I like about this team is that every single player on this team has improved from last year,'' Hogan said. "We graduated some top players last year, but our returning players knew that if they wanted to continue the [championship] tradition, they were all going to have to improve.''
Senior outside hitters Miriah Butterworth and Emily Krumenacker, senior libero Becky Krumenacker, junior setter Megan Rescinito, junior middle hitters Liz Wolfe and Becky Britton, and senior defensive specialists Kelly Sedlock and Lauren Ashurst, have all chipped in valuably for Northern Cambria, which is in a pool with District 10 champ Saegertown, and runners-up Bishop Canevin of District 7 and Elk County Catholic of District 9.
Pool play is a new entity in the PIAA volleyball tournament this year - teams previously were pared from a round of 16 on down to the finals - but veteran Altoona coach Karan Price sees that as an advantage.
"I think it will benefit us, because we have plenty of tournament experience, we'll have several matches, and we're [often] a slow-starting team,'' said Price, whose squad is in the same pool with District 3 champion Hempfield, District 12 runner-up Central, and District 1 third-placer Mount St. Joseph.
Altoona, 14-2 this season, won its third straight District 6-AAA championship this season, upending State College. Returning senior starters on this year's team were outside hitters Kim Bumbarger and Bailey Sinai, right side hitter Casey Smith, middle hitter Makenzie Wilt, and libero Stephanie Dodson. Junior setter Adena Delozier started last year as a sophomore. First-year starters Kelley George, a junior defensive specialist, sophomore middle hitter Brianna Luciano, soph defensive specialist Hannah Moore, and freshman right side hitter Amanda Parrish, have also been key contributors.
Penn Cambria, 19-1 this year, will compete in a first-round Class AA pool that includes District 10 champ Meadville, District 9 kingpin Punxsutawney, and District 7 runner-up Indiana.
Outside hitters Jess Delic and Danelle Weakland, right side hitter Keisha Mulhern, and middle hitter Stephanie Basile, all seniors, lettered a year ago for Penn Cambria, as did sophomore setter Brianna Mulhern and soph middle hitter Taylor Freeman.
"I think that playing as a team has been our strong suit this year,'' said Penn Cambria coach Leah Montgomery. "I don't know a lot about the other teams [in the state tournament], but I've told our girls that if they play the way they're capable of playing, we have a chance to move on after this weekend.''