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Hard work pays off for Lady Spikers

MILL HALL — Two weeks ago, Altoona traveled to Mill Hall and suffered a heartbreaking loss, 3-2, against Central Mountain. The defeat resonated with the team– who felt they didn’t have their best performance. And with another crack at Central Mountain Wednesday night, the Lady Spikers produced the winning effort they knew they were capable of.

The Lady Spikers bested the Central Mountain on the road, 25-19, 16-25, 25-20, 25-10, in the District 6 Class 4A semifinals. The win advanced the team to Saturday’s district championship versus State College, and coach John Saboe was all smiles after the victory.

“If you put in that hard work at the gym, you’re able to turn it around into good defense and good offense,” Saboe said of Altoona improving from its previous loss to Central Mountain. “When everybody does their job on the court, serving-wise, good things are going to happen.”

Ireland McClellan had a sensational night for Altoona. The senior captain had 14 kills and a trio of aces.

“We’ve kind of rested a lot of our season on the shoulders of Ireland McClellan, and Ireland did a terrific job for us in the middle” Saboe said. “Both of our middles were terrific, in fact, because I don’t want to leave out MJ [White]. Both of our middles have really progressed throughout the season. Coming in we knew that Ireland was going to be very good, and as the season progressed MJ got better and better. She has that potential, and it’s nice to see it come to fruition here at the end of the season when you want those things to happen for your kids.

“But we did a nice job as a team, and that’s probably the most important part. Everybody stepped up when they had to.”

Altoona won the first set, 25-19. Central Mountain’s McKenzie Hanna recorded a kill early on to knot the game at 5-all, but Altoona responded with a 10-2 run to take a 15-7 advantage. Altoona widened the lead again, 19-12, before CM battled back late but ultimately dropped the set, 25-19.

CM bounced back in the second set and won its only game of the night, 25-16. They faced an early 6-1 deficit before responding to even the game at 10-all. CM later recorded a momentum-boosting kill during a 6-0 rally that saw the Wildcats widen its edge, 21-15, before claiming the set.

“That set we just had the serving and defense, and everything flows out of that,” Central Mountain coach Scott Garman said, “But with that being said Altoona made some uncharacteristic errors which helped us out.”

Altoona won the third set, 25-20, before winning the fourth 25-10 to win the game. Altoona junped to an early lead, and a late 9-0 rally by the Lady Spikers sealed them the win.

“Once we got down by like three or four you could see the writing on the wall,” Garman said. “By that point, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But credit to Altoona, they played strong and had solid blocking at the net.”

Altoona returns Saturday to the district championship against State College. Altoona lost its previous meeting to the Little Lions, 3-0, but it’ll be looking to undo that loss like it did against Central Mountain.

“They’re a fairly dominant team, and I give them a lot of credit,” Saboe said. “They do all things well in all aspects of the game. So we’ll take the next two days getting in the gym, we know what we’re preparing for and we’ll play Saturday and see what happens.”

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