Lions advance to states

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Altoona Phil Swartz (17), Ben Parrish (1) and Masen Nartatez celebrate winning the second set on Friday.

Altoona Area High School boys volleyball coach John Saboe never feels any unease when his team is involved in a close game.

“These guys are battle-tested,” Saboe said Friday night. “There have been so many games this season where they have been challenged, but they have pulled out victories. When these guys are in close games, I have no fear. I know these guys know how to win those games.”

A case in point occurred Friday during the District 6-8-10 Class 3A subregional championship game with State College at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse.

The Mountain Lions improved to 16-1 on the season and earned a berth in the PIAA Class 3A state tournament by winning the tooth-and-nail battle in three straight sets, 25-23, 25-20, 28-26.

Altoona will face Butler, a third-place finisher out of District 7, in an opening-round PIAA matchup on Tuesday at a site to be determined.

Altoona was led Friday by senior outside hitter Phil Swartz, who scored 25 digs, 19 kills, four service points, two blocks, and two assists. Junior outside hitter Dalton Keller added 19 digs, eight kills, two assists, one block, and five service points — including the match-clinching service point that State College failed to return in the third set, giving Altoona the 28-26 victory.

Senior setter Mason Nartatez chipped in with 15 assists, five service points, and one dig for Altoona.

Friday’s game was much closer than last week’s District 6 Class 3A championship game between the two teams at Tyrone, in which Altoona prevailed, 27-25, 25-12, 25-16.

“(Friday) was a hard-fought match, (State College) is always a big rival,” said Swartz, who will play NCAA Division II collegiate volleyball at Lindenwood University in Missouri. “Staying confident was the key for us. We needed to play our game, and play like we know how to play.”

In the first set, no team had a lead of over two points, and Altoona battled back from a 22-21 deficit by scoring four of the last five points. Swartz’s kill clinched the game, giving Altoona the 25-23 victory.

In the second set, four straight service points by Altoona junior setter Christopher Ball helped Altoona to a 21-17 lead, and a pair of Swartz kills clinched Altoona’s 25-20 victory.

The third set was tied at 26-26 before a State College player served the ball into his own net, giving Altoona a 27-26 lead. Keller’s ensuing serve wasn’t returned by State College, and the Mountain Lions nailed down the victory.

“We stuck together and played hard as a team,” Keller said. “After we beat them last week, we expected them to be angry tonight and we expected them to want to win, but we pushed through, kept our heads straight, and came out on top.”

State College coach Kim-Li Kimel was proud of her team’s effort.

“It was a tough match, we showed a lot of improvement over the last seven days,” Kimel said. “We played this team a week ago, and we didn’t perform well. We had a great turnaround tonight. Altoona was clearly the better team, but it was a good match.”

Now Altoona moves on to the state tournament, with a chance to further its success.

“We’re very pleased,” Saboe said. “This team has worked hard since the beginning of the season. This team set a goal to be in the state playoffs this year, and to make some noise in the state playoffs. Tonight was just one more step that the players on this team made to achieve the goals that they set for themselves.”

ALTOONA STATISTICS

SERVICE POINTS: Ball 6, Keller 5, Barry 5, Nartatez 5, Gibbons 5, Swartz 4.

KILLS: Swartz 19, Keller 8, Parrish 6, Barry 2, Cassidy 2, Gibbons 2.

BLOCKS: Swartz 2, Parrish 2, Keller 1, Barry 1, Cassidy 1, Gibbons 1.

ASSISTS: Ball 19, Nartatez 15, Swartz 2, Keller 2, Cassidy 1.

DIGS: Swartz 25, Keller 19, Barry 5, Snyder 5, Ball 1, Nartatez 1, Gibbons 1.

Records: State College (5-11); Altoona (16-1).

Officials: Mike Dwyer, Chad Oberholtzer, Ken Streilein, Marty Halmo.

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