Lions dropped by State College

TYRONE – The Altoona Mountain Lions went into Tuesday night’s District 6 Class AAA boys volleyball championship as the top seed.

State College was unfazed. After all, the Little Lions competed in the Mid-Penn Conference and faced several strong teams from District 3 during the regular season.

Altoona won the first set Tuesday, but State College stormed back to take three sets in a row and win the D6-AAA crown – 22-25, 25-23, 25-17, 25-22.

SC Coach Kim-Li M. Kimel’s message to her team after the first set was simple: “I asked them if they wanted to be here. Are we spectating or are we attempting to win the match?” she asked her Little Lions.

“We’ve struggled with this all year,” Kimel continued. “One night, we come out and just tear it up. Then, the next match, you wonder if they have to be somewhere, so I just tried to remind them that they had to ask themselves what the purpose is of being here, and make sure they work to that end.”

Altoona was competitive, but, in the end, State’s middle blockers Andrew Groves and Eric Deshong and outside hitter Ibrahim Almoaiqel were too much for the Mountain Lions around the net.

“We moved from the Mid-State League, which is basically District 6, to the Mid-Penn League,” Kimel said of the seedings. “We didn’t play Altoona this year.”

The ratings, according to Kimel, are based on records. State was 8-7 overall and 6-5 in the Mid-Penn.

“There are several state-rated teams in the Mid-Penn and it’s much more challenging,” she said. “It’s much better preparation for playoffs.”

SC broke a 21-21 tie to take the second set, 25-23. In the third set, the Little Lions opened an 20-12 lead and cruised to a 25-17 win.

Altoona battled back in the fourth set and pulled to within 24-22 only to see SC get the winning point on a questionable call on the back line.

Altoona coach John Saboe was disappointed, but pleased with his team’s effort.

“We played tough,” Saboe said. “We had a lot of youth on the court and, at times, the youth showed through.

“But, the kids battled, and that’s all we’ve asked from them all year,” Saboe noted. “We started the season and many people said that because we graduated nine seniors it was going to be a rebuilding year. “We went 8-4 and to be 8-4 in a rebuilding year … I don’t think that’s too bad.

“We beat the Double-A champ, Bishop Guilfoyle, and that was a great accomplishment and they came in here and battled State College.”

Saboe didn’t dwell on the game-ending call, but didn’t let it go unnoticed.

“In Game 4, we were in a situation we practice every day,” Saboe said. “We were down, but the kids did exactly what we told them to do. They battled, but unfortunately, a call went the other way. Those things happen.”

Game notes: Altoona statistical leaders: Brett Koelle, 16 kills, 4 service points; Tanner Baumgartner, 13 kills, 20 digs, 6 service points; Josh Huber, 14 blocks; James Piaggio, 5 blocks; Eric Wineland, 31 assists; Nate Baker, 15 digs, 8 service points. … State leaders: Eric Deshong, 14 kills; Deniz Demirci, 13 kills; Ibrahim Almoaiqel, 12 kills; Noah Hanahan, 29 digs; Andrew Groves, 43 assists.