GUYS MILLS — In the first varsity action of any sport to take place in the newly-renovated gymnasium of Maplewood High School, the Maplewood Tigers girls volleyball team used its resiliency to rally from behind to beat the visiting Cochranton Cardinals in four sets in non-region action.
There were no screaming fans in the stands of The Woodshed on Monday night, but Maplewood and Cochranton worked to create enough energy in another installment of the rivalry between the two successful programs. Maplewood fell behind by losing the first set 25-15 before rallying to win the next three 25-17, 25-15, 25-20.
Outside hitters Chloe Leech (12 kills, 11 digs) and Sadie Thomas (10 kills, 9 digs) provided constant pressure for the Cochranton defense, while setter Bailey Varndell racked up 28 assists. Madison Crawford and Madalyn Woge tallied 13 digs apiece in a strong defensive showing. The serving game of Maplewood totaled 14 aces, some at key points in the contest, as Kaysea Thomas and Woge served up three aces each.
Lexie Moore (8 kills, 6 digs), Devyn Sokol (6 kills) and Megan Heim (6 kills) led the Cochranton attack. Dana Jackson tallied 16 assists, while Chelsey Freyermuth and Taytum Jackson contributed 15 and 10 digs, respectively.
“It’s always a backyard rivalry,” Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft said of the matchup. “We’re friends but when we get onto the court no one wants to lose. It’s a great match to start the season. We just have to keep getting better though. We can’t just sit back because we definitely didn’t play our A game tonight.”
In their first action of the season, the Tigers got off to a slow start, as Cochranton rallied for the first four points of the match. Moore tallied kills on those of those plays. Even though Maplewood would respond by getting the next two, Cochranton went on two more 4-point runs during the opening set en route to going ahead 1-0.
Maplewood fell behind 3-1 in set two, but used a 6-2 run to pull ahead 7-5. Three aces came during that span. The Tigers slowly began to pull away and finished the set with a 7-4 spurt to win it 25-17.
In the third, Cochranton jumped out to a 13-7 lead, but the momentum was suddenly going to shift in Maplewood’s direction. A 9-point run that included some tough serves from Kaysea Thomas helped the Tigers work back and take a 16-13 advantage. Even though the two teams split the next four points, Maplewood scored the final seven points of the set, including a solo block from Varndell on Heim that brought the Maplewood sideline to a standing roar.
“The run really helped give us the push to really work for the next few points,” Sadie Thomas said. “When Bailey got the block, it really hyped us up. You don’t see that kind of block in practice.”
Maplewood used that momentum and didn’t look back the rest of the way.
“We could have very easily folded after the first game,” Bancroft said. “They had a lot of momentum. Serving and receiving are the keys in volleyball. They were on the serve and we couldn’t pass. We could have easily stayed in that rut but we bounced out and shifted the tide to the other side. We started serving a little tougher and that was the difference in the match.”
Not playing with the home crowd physically and emotionally behind them proved to be a challenge that the Tigers would have to overcome.
“It was definitely strange because volleyball is an emotional sport and the crowd definitely gets into the game,” Chloe Leech said after the game. “I thought we did pretty well at keeping motivated during the game, but during timeouts and at the service line, where no one was cheering, it was definitely weird.”
Bancroft was pleased with some of the play from relatively younger players on the roster.
“McKenna Crawford came off the bench and did a great job serving,” Bancroft said. “Madison Vergona, for a sophomore, handled the ball in the middle of the floor very well. She got some hands on some balls and came up with a big time block toward the end. We’re young at some positions, but we’ll come around.”
Maplewood will play their first Region 4 contest tonight when they host Titusville at 7 p.m.