MARION CENTER - Penn Cambria girls volleyball coach Leah Montgomery did not know what to expect when the Panthers fell behind, 8-4, in the rubber game of their District 6 Class AA quarterfinal-round match at host Marion Center.
Led by the strong play of Taylor Freeman, Hayley Holsberger and Tori Shingler, the seventh-seeded Panthers rallied to capture the match, 3-2. Penn Cambria (12-7) won by the scores of 25-18, 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-13.
"I really thought by the looks of them on the court [I thought], 'Oh-oh; they're done,'" Montgomery said. "After the one timeout I said, 'You have nothing to prove. You either want it or you don't. You got to go out there and show what you want.'''
The reigning district champion Panthers will face No. 3 Bald Eagle, a 3-1 winner over Central, in a rematch of last year's semifinal Thursday. The Eagles (12-3) outlasted the Dragons, 25-13, 25-22, 22-25, 27-25.
"I think it will be a very good match if we're playing the way we can be playing," Montgomery said. "If we get tight like that with the confidence and fall apart, we're in trouble."
Penn Cambria struggled to shake off the second-seeded Stingers. The Panthers never trailed in the first game. Marion Center stood toe-to-toe with Penn Cambria the rest of the way, delighting the rabid hometown crowd.
The Panthers needed a 10-0 run in the third game. Led by the strong all-around play of Kearsten Brocious, Alexis Cornman and Courtney Greene, Marion Center (14-4) asserted itself after a 6-4 deficit to force the rubber game.
The Stingers appeared on their way to a possible semifinal berth after they sprinted to an 8-4 lead. Acknowledging the youth of her squad, coach Montgomery wasn't sure how her team would respond.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Freeman and Co. had the answer.
"We were falling apart and in our minds we were trying to regroup," said Freeman, who led Penn Cambria with 19 kills. "At that point it was about coming together as a team."
"We're really young, and I can really see it because last year we had a really good team and I graduated all of them," Montgomery said. "I can see the confidence is there. They play really well, and they'll go back down."
The outcome was not exactly what first-year Marion Center coach Katie Proch expected, but it did not come as a total surprise.
"Mistakes, whatever you want to call it; nerves," she said. "I'm not going to say I expected it, but it wasn't anything out of the normal."
Holsberger contributed 17 kills and five blocks. Katie Buzzella served for 17 points. Kelly Yusko turned in 41 assists and 10 digs.
"When the pressure was on, Hayley really came through with her serve. And Tori came through with a bunch of tips that really helped us. I don't know if we could have won without them," Freeman said.
Bald Eagle's quarterfinal victory came with its share of anxious moments for coach Larry Campbell. The Eagles dominated the first game but struggled after senior outside hitter Megan Flick injured her right side diving for a loose ball. She had an ice pack applied to the side immediately after the match.
"In the middle of the second game, Flick kind of knocked the wind out of herself and it kind of knocked the wind out of our sails. We kind of stopped playing," Campbell said. "After the middle of the game two, it was ugly. We were searching for kids [to make plays]."
Branden Lang led the Dragons (9-6) with nine service points and six assists. Ashley Smith topped Central with eight kills.
The Dragons will have some holes to fill next season, according to coach Mark Steele. Only sophomore outside hitter Ashley Smith is expected to return. "We have high hopes for her next season," he said.
"We have a pretty good core group coming up. Going forward, I thing it'll be a slight step back, but not too bad."
Megan Flick led the Eagles with 11 kills and 14 blocks. Chelsey Poorman added 23 assists.