Members of the Maplewood Tigers celebrate winning match point at the end of the third set.

GUYS MILLS — After taking care of business on Tuesday night, the Maplewood Tigers girls volleyball team is back in the District 10 Championship Game. Maplewood welcomed a hungry Sharpsville club to The Woodshed for the Class 2A Semifinal round, but turned the Blue Devils away in straight sets, 25-12, 25-15, 25-18.

Sharpsville was coming off an upset victory in their quarterfinal contest against previously undefeated Wilmington, who earned the Region 1 championship after their 14-0 regular season performance. With the Region 2 champion Blue Devils having a surprising sweep to their name already, they were looking for a repeat. However, Maplewood put the pressure on them early and never let the visitors gain significant momentum in the match.

“We knew that our competition throughout the year was better, so it prepared us,” Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft said. “I don’t think Wilmington or Sharpsville played a tough schedule, so coming in here, we just had to play our kind of ball.”

Outside hitters Chloe Leech and Sadie Thomas posted their normal double-digit numbers of kills with 14 and 10, respectively, while chipping in six and five digs, accordingly. Bailey Varndell totaled 27 assists, while Kaysea Thomas and Madison Vergona added three kills each. Varndell spearheaded the defense with 11 digs, while Madison Crawford had 10. On the serve, Leech had four aces, as Barndell tallied three.

“It was huge because going into Thursday’s game it gives us more confidence,” Leech said of the sweep. “We were really hyped for today’s game and excited coming in. We were not taking (Sharpsville) lightly. We were just focused on coming in and doing our jobs.”

Even though the Tigers (19-2) gave up the first point of the match, they did their job for the most part. Maplewood responded with a 15-3 run to take control of the first set. Sharpsville (12-5) collected six of the ensuing 10 points, but Maplewood closed out the set with a 6-2 stretch.

In set two, Sharpsville worked for a 12-8 lead, looking to knot the match at 1-all. However, Maplewood settled in behind its home crowd and rallied for 17 of the final 20 points with a six-point serving runs by Kaysea Thomas and Varndell.

Although Bancroft wasn’t completely satisfied with her team’s serving night, as the Tigers did total five service errors, she did say it was a key in the match.

“We hit our spots well,” Bancroft said. “I guess when we serve any ball in the net I don’t like it. If you’re going to miss, miss on the other side of the net. I thought we had a couple too many of those. (Our serving) was a key because it’s probably their downfall — the passing game. They have the offense, so we kept them out of that by serving tough.”

Maplewood opened the third set with a 13-2 scoring run. Crawford and Varndell held serve for six and seven consecutive points, respectively. Facing elimination, the Blue Devils did not go away quietly, eventually getting back within five points, at 23-18. A powerful kill by Sadie Thomas on the following play forced Sharpsville to call a timeout prior to match point, where a tip by Avery Brunot landed on the floor and sent Maplewood on to the next round.

Sharpsville’s blocking game proved to cause trouble at times for Maplewood. However, the Tigers were able to adjust their approach at the net to keep collecting points.

“It’s probably the biggest block we’ve seen all year,” Bancroft said. “There was no change in strategy. We just had to tell them to hit it a little smarter. They were just trying to pound everything hard. You have a little higher reach to hit the top of the block, and we tried to move it and hit a little bit out of the seams a bit more.”

Maplewood’s string of consecutive District 10 finals appearances will continue on Thursday night, and the Tigers will look for their first D-10 title since the 2017 state championship run. The Tigers have had some trouble at the Class 2A level since bumping up from 1A prior to the 2018 season. 

For the third straight year, Corry will be on the other side of the net, fighting for the right to move on to the state dance after defeating Fairview in four sets on Tuesday. 

In the past two seasons, Corry has won six of the seven sets played at Meadville High School in the championship round. And like last year, Maplewood won the only regular season match played, as the Tigers earned at 3-1 home victory on Oct. 5. The two clubs have split the six matches played since the 2018 campaign, but the Tigers have yet to pick up a postseason victory against the Beavers in that span. 

“This is the first time we’re going to play a District 10 Championship Game on our home floor,” Bancroft said. “That just doesn’t happen. We have to take advantage of it, and I’m sure it will be a great match. We like the atmosphere with a few more people in the gym and hopefully it brings some excitement to the floor.”

Borland can be reached at sports@titusvilleherald.com, and can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZBraves31.

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