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Lady Cats Volleyball Team’s Fine Season Comes To An End In Thrilling State Semifinals Match (11/13/19)

(Thanks to Kim Constantino for the photo) Lady Cats after winning their District Nine Championship

In the preview for the PIAA State Class-A semifinal match between the Clarion Area Lady Cats and Northern Cambria, in Tuesday’s Johnstown Tribune-Democrat Lady Colts’ Coach Mike Hogan had this to say, “I expect it to be a classic hard-fought, high-level matchup. Both teams deserve to be here. It’s going to be one of those type games that you remember for a long time. Both teams know each other very well. From club ball to summer camps to fall tournaments, these kids have competed against each other for years. Not that any extra motivation is needed, but I think that the familiarity adds to the excitement.”

Coach Hogan couldn’t have been more correct, as this match was one “that you remember for a long time.”

The Lady Cats fell 3 games to 1 in the match, at Clearfield Area High School on Tuesday (November 13th), to end a fine season, but that doesn’t begin to tell you how exciting this match was. Excitement was built in to this contest before it began.

You had the two top ranked Class-A teams in the state, Clarion at number one and Northern Cambria at number two. There was not a week during the season when one of these teams was not ranked number one and the other ranked number two. The Colts were number one and the Cats number two in weeks 1 through 6, with the order reversed in weeks 7 through 11.

The two perennial state ranked teams met in the state playoffs the two previous years. Each of those contests also ended in 3-1 scores. Northern Cambria won in the quarterfinals last year, on their way to the state championship. Clarion won in the 2017 quarterfinals, before falling in the semifinals to eventual state champion Maplewood.

How close was the contest? Well, there were 201 total points scored, with only seven points separating the two teams, Northern Cambria 104 – Clarion 97. Two of the games went into “extras.” The first game wasn’t settled until Northern Cambria scored their thirty-first point at 31-29, and they didn’t clinch the match until game four finished at 27-25 Lady Colts.

These two teams fought hard throughout and both coaches would agree that their teams made some mistakes. And much of that could be the pressure surrounding the contest, between two great teams with a state championship appearance on the line. But there were also some great plays from both teams, as they faced that great team across the net, with both demonstrating a “never say die” attitude.

The first game was a perfect example. Northern Cambria jumped out to a huge 14-5 lead. Clarion broke service, and with three straight service points from Jordan Best, closed the gap to 14-9. The Colts moved the lead to 16-9. Again the Cats broke service and with five straight service points from Brenna Campbell trailed by only two points, 17-15.

Later, with three straight points by Brooke Lieb, the Colts led 23-17 and were two points from winning the set. But after a service break, Aryana Girvan served for six straight points, the last coming on strong kill by Kait Constantino, giving Clarion their first lead at 24-23, one point from the win.

Clarion led 25-24 and 26-25, then Northern Cambria led 27-26 and 28-27. The Cats regained the lead 29-28 before the Colts took it back at 30-29 before scoring the winning point. For those old time boxing fans, this was like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier trading punches in the Thrilla in Manilla.

Set two was more of the same. The Colts jumped out to a 4-2 lead. But after Aryana Girvan had two service breaking kills and two service points the Cats led 6-5. Northern Cambria regained the lead at 7-6. Following two service ending kills by Korrin Burns, another service kill by Clarion and two straight aces by Burns, Clarion led by one 12-11.

Following three service exchanges and two service points by Northern Cambria’s Maggie Hogan, the Colts led 15-13.

The third point in a four point run, by Aryana Girvan, put Clarion ahead for good at 17-16. Constantino had a service point that moved Clarion an 20-17 lead. Brenna Campbell’s service point, late in the match had the Cats up 23-20. Two service exchanges and Burns’ service point, that was finished off by Constantino’s kill, gave Clarion the four-point, 25-21 victory, knotting the match at a game apiece.

Neither team led by more than two points, in the third set til late, when Northern Cambria broke service and Rayna Buza had four straight service points turning a one-point 14-13 deficit to an 18-14 Colts’ lead on the way to the 25-18 win.

The fourth set was again pretty tight throughout. A kill by Burns gave Clarion a 22-21 lead late. And the Cats led 24-23, just a point away from tying the match at two games apiece. Northern Cambria tied it at 24-all, moving the game to another win-by-two situation. The Colts gained the lead at 25-24, now they were one point from winning the match. But no, Constantino delivered on a kill to tie it again, before Northern Cambria scored the final two points in the 27-25 clincher.

Yes this will be a match that will be remembered for years to come by the players who fought so hard on both sides and just refused to lay down and by all those in attendance. The Lady Cats can be proud of the way they fought, as can the Lady Colts. No not a perfect match by either team, some mistakes on each side; but again, like two heavyweight boxers going toe-to-toe in a title fight, refusing to give up, these young ladies showed grit and fortitude all match long.

Lady Cats’ Stats:

Aryana Girvan had 15 points (4 aces), 6 kills and four digs. Burns scored 8 points (4 aces) and delivered on 22 kills with seven digs. Campbell had 42 assists, 7 points and Nine digs. Best had 6 points (1 ace) and fourteen digs. Constantino had 12 digs, 15 kills, 3 points and two assists. K. K. Girvan registered 6 digs and scored 1 point. Maddie Schill had 2 kills and a dig; and Payton Simko had a kill.

Coach Campbell had this to say after the match., “We just fell a little short. We scored a lot of points for Northern Cambria. You just can’t do that at this point.

“But (I’m) just really proud of the way we handled adversity. We’ve accomplished a lot of things. Making it to the Final Four is quite an accomplishment.

“We’ll get over this. Then we’ll celebrate all the good stuff that has gone on, for sure.”

Again from the Tribune-Democrat’s match preview article, “Both teams have participated in each other’s tournaments over the years. Hogan admires Clarion’s consistent program.  ‘It’s a well-run, disciplined and hard-working small school, community-recognized program,’ Hogan said. ‘I think those are great traits in today’s athletics throughout Pennsylvania.’ ” Again Coach Hogan hit the nail right on the head. And I’m sure ditto goes for his fine program.

Congratulations to the Lady Cats on a great season!!!! Congratulations to Kaitlyn, K. K., Maddie and Grace on your fine careers!!!!

And congratulations to the Lady Colts on the win. All the best in the state final.