By Lisa Byers
It isn’t often that a player goes through her volleyball career at Maplewood High School without winning at least one District 10 championship medal.
But going into Saturday’s District 10 Class A championship match, it was a feat that had eluded this year’s senior class, Emily Merritt, Liz Miller, Taylor Smith, Ashley Myers, Laura Kirk and Kendra Turner.
And with a very talented Sharpsville squad on the opposite side of the net, ending that streak was going to take a superb effort on the Lady Tigers’ part.
The Tigers, who finished third in the state in 2010 and 2011 as the District 10 runner-up, captured their 15th District 10 championship and their first since 2008, with a 26-28, 25-20, 25-20, 25-23 win over Sharpsville at Cochranton High School.
“I can’t even describe how it feels,” said Merritt, the Tigers’ libero. “We came into this thing undefeated so we knew we would have the biggest target on our backs. We knew we were going to have to come out and play hard. I did not want this to be the end of my season.”
At 15-0, Maplewood, ranked No. 7 in the state in Class A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association and a traditional volleyball power, was certainly a team to be reckoned with going into yesterday’s championship match. But it was Sharpsville, ranked No. 3 in the state, that went into the contest as the favorite.
The Blue Darlings were making their first appearance in the District 10 final. In fact, it was the first appearance by a team outside of Crawford County in the District 10 Class A title match since the PIAA switched to three classifications back in 2000.
And early on that may have played a factor. Maplewood jumped on top of the Blue Darlings from the get-go and led by as many as seven (10-3) in the opening set. Sharpsville started to settle in late and turned it on with Maplewood sitting at game point.
The Blue Darlings went on a 3-0 run to tie the game at 24-24 and ended up winning the set 28-26.
“We had that first game,” Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft said. “We had that one and we let it slip away. And when we let that slip away we came out flat in the second game. I thought, ‘Uh oh. The confidence level is down.’
“But they never quit.”
Sharpsville did use the momentum from the thrilling opening set win and jumped out to a 5-1 advantage in Game 2. The Tigers responded with a 4-0 run to tie it up at 5-5. There were four more ties in the set the last of which came at 20-20 following an attack error by the Tigers. That 20th point, however, wound up being the last one scored by the Blue Darlings.
It was a similar ending to Game 4. This time the score was tied at 19-19. A service error put the Tigers up 20-19 and they outscored Sharpsville 5-1 the rest of the way to win the set and the match.
The Blue Darlings’ season came to an end with the loss at 17-4, marking the end of the road for a very talented group of seniors, which includes setter Kristen Scurpa, outside hitter Paige Scurpa and libero Alex Ferrera.
“I told the girls that I wanted to prove to everyone up here (in Crawford County) that in our area we can play some good volleyball,” Sharpsville coach Scott Scurpa said. “I think most of these ladies understand that now.
“They’ve had such a rich tradition up here and we’re trying to build something down (in Sharpsville) and it’s been tough. (The group of seniors) are going to be missed.
“It’s good to be being talked about in the same breath as these teams (in Crawford County) now.”
Maplewood advances to the first round of the PIAA Class A tournament which begins Tuesday. The Tigers will face the WPIAL third seed West Shamokin at 8 p.m. at Cochranton High School.
Up until a huddle in the auxiliary gymnasium at Cochranton High School yesterday, the Lady Tigers seemed unaware that they had qualified for the postseason. That news was delivered by Bancroft as the huddle broke and was welcomed with tears and cheers.
“The girls never gave up,” Bancroft said. “They believed and that was what we stressed when we left the gym (Saturday) morning and when we watched film on them (Friday).
“I said, ‘You have to believe. You have to believe you can beat this team. Because everyone else does not believe you can.’
“I told them if they believed and went out there and played the best they could anything could happen. And it did.”
Madalyn Nicols led the Tigers (16-0) with 21 digs and 21 kills. Turner and Jessa Covine added 13 and 10 kills, respectively. Jaricka Simmerman had 37 assists and 15 digs. Laura Kirk chipped in with 16 digs and Merritt tallied 27 digs.