Chloe Leech

Maplewood’s Chloe Leech powers the ball through a pair of Corry blockers during Thursday’s District 10 Class 2A Championship Game. Leech had 15 kills.

GUYS MILLS — Demons of playoffs past were exorcised for the Maplewood Tigers girls volleyball team on Thursday night on their home floor. After falling in each of the last two District 10 Class 2A Championship matches to the Corry Beavers, the third time proved to be the charm for the Tigers.

Maplewood swept their way past Corry and into the PIAA Tournament with scores of 25-21, 25-15, 25-21 for the program’s first District 10 title since 2017. 

The Tigers’ outside hitting duo of Chloe Leech and Sadie Thomas put constant pressure on the Corry defense with 15 and 14 kills, respectively, while Kaysea Thomas added five kills. Bailey Varndell had 36 assists. Leech also paced the Maplewood defense with 12 digs, as Madison Crawford (9 digs) and Sadie Thomas (6 digs) helped to slow down the Beaver attack.

When asked if the Tigers felt like they got the monkey off their backs with the victory, Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft immediately said, “Yes!”

“To be able to beat a team like Corry in three like we did, we never got rattled when they started gaining on us and got a little lead,” Bancroft said. “We kept our composure and our focused from point one until the end.”

The championship rematch lived up to the hype throughout the opening set, as both teams brought the intensity to the floor. As loud roars came from each end of the crowd at Maplewood High School when the ball hit the floor, the two clubs posted runs and answered each other in the tightly-contested frame that saw the Tigers hold a slim 21-20 advantage. 

After a Sadie Thomas kill gave Maplewood a 22-20 lead and the serve back at their end of the floor, Bancroft called on freshman Chloe Cox to handle the crucial serve. With a pair of aces sandwiched outside a Corry timeout, the freshman answered her coach’s call to help propel the Tigers to a 25-21 win in the first set.

Bancroft stuck with Cox in the rotation the rest of the way, and the move helped keep the Beavers out of system.

“Chloe came off the bench and did a super job serving,” Bancroft said. “It was at a key time. For her to come off the bench at that time and not have a clue she was going to be in that situation, that was a big momentum-shifter. I told these girls from the beginning that you never know when your number is going to get called. That was one of those examples. In a match like this it’s two or three points and that’s the difference. It was one of those things that you go with your gut feeling, but they show you at practice what they can do.”

Although Corry jumped ahead in set two with a 4-1 run, Maplewood kept its composure. The Tigers eventually pulled back in front 9-7 after a four-point stretch and never trailed again in the 25-15 frame. Maplewood had their opponents on the other side of the net to thank at times, as Corry struggled to pass the ball on the back end of some tough Tiger serves. Rachel Brady got 13 kills for the Beavers, but no other member of the team tallied more than five. 

Corry head coach Kelly Goodsel believed his team’s struggles in the passing game were the key of the match.

“The difference this year was the same as the last two years, and that is the team that passed better won,” Goodsel said. “We passed well in the first set after the first four or five points, and that was the difference in that set. In the second set, we broke down, so we had to give a lot of free balls. You can’t give a good team a lot of free balls. They’ll pound it back down your throat. (Maplewood) just played a little better ball control on defense and serve-receive.”

With their season on the line, the Beavers jumped out to a 4-2 advantage, but Maplewood responded with a 7-2 stretch that propelled the Tigers in front. Corry did work back to tie the score at 13-all and later stayed within one point at 20-19. However, Leech powered three kills during Maplewood’s ensuing 4-1 run to earn their first match point. It would be the only one played, as a tip over the net by Kaysea Thomas grounded the ball and the hopes of a Corry comeback.

“My heart just leaped,” Leech said of her reaction as the ball hit the floor. “I’ve never been able to be a part of something like this before. It’s just an amazing feeling.”

According to the latest bracket on the PIAA website, Maplewood will get a bye through the PIAA Class 2A First Round that will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 10. With only 10 district champions advancing to the state tournament this season, there will only be two first-round matchups played. 

Maplewood (20-2) is slated to battle the District 6 champions in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Nov. 14. District 6 will not have its champion crowned until Tuesday, Nov. 10 as the semifinal round has yet to take place and is scheduled for tonight. Therefore, Maplewood is scheduled to have nine days before their first PIAA contest. Bancroft said that she will be on the phone soon to get some scrimmages lined up in the week to come. 

“We have to keep that competitiveness on the other side of the floor because it will be a long week just to practice every day,” Bancroft said. “We’ll have to get a couple of scrimmages there to keep our game fresh and to fine tune.”

It will take three victories for Maplewood to be the last team standing in the state. The Tigers are hoping to celebrate on the floor of Cumberland Valley High School on Saturday, Nov. 21 when the championship trophy will be handed out. Bancroft is looking forward to the “unknown” ahead.

“Now, you move on and play the unknown,” Bancroft said. “I think it’s always tougher when you play a team that knows you really well and you know them than going out and playing someone you’ve never seen. That’s what is going to happen now. We need to worry about us, and we know we can still play better.”

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

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